Category Archives: Arts

How to Greet the Teacher

Greetings on auspicious occasions range from a quiet hello to a standing ovation.  For your family, a child starting or returning to school requires feats of readiness and coordination. Give yourself some applause!

How about paying it forward? Your child’s teacher is about to shape him for the next one hundred eighty days or so, for six to seven hours a day. That’s a lot of time and a lot of learning–especially when you consider it’s a serious part of building your child’s future. You will be a large presence during your child’s growth and as you know, good home-school communication is critical support for your growing child.

child writingI’d like to pass on some observations I’ve made over the years about parents and the first day of school. I’ve seen some parents help to establish a pleasant and open relationship with a teacher by making these friendly gestures:

  1. A handmade card by your child that introduces him and says what he hopes to learn.
  2. Alternatively, a note from you and your partner thanking the teacher in advance and saying you look forward to work with her.
  3. A small bunch of flowers–from your garden, if possible.

It doesn’t matter what you send in, because as with all gracious gestures, it’s the thought that counts.  Your child will notice your effort, too–what better way to model and reinforce manners?

 

 

 

Venus in Music and Art

Your child read the book, did the research, wrote the report, and made the model of the planet now exhibited in the hallway.  What’s missing?

The art and music that the planet inspired, of course! And it’s not limited to the composer Gustav Holst, whose composition The Planets consists of familiar melodies to many people. You can listen to the section “Venus, The Bringer of Peace” starting at 8:11 in this video.

Vincent Van Gogh created more than one painting that included Venus, including this one, The White House at Night.VG.White House Nigh.  Venus is so bright here that it illuminates the landscape as if it were day.

It’s one thing for your child to learn facts and gain knowledge.  But how do you know when your child really gets its?

It happens when you  deepen your child’s understanding by looking for links to music and art.  There isn’t a subject too dry or too complex that hasn’t been brought to life through an artist’s or composer’s eyes.

 

Playing Piano and the Brain

When I taught piano, I noticed something about my students’ learning.  The first two years were easy and a student got satisfaction quickly from playing recognizable melodies.

Year three, however, separated the long-term gain students from the others.Piano and the Brain Pieces are more difficult at this point and practice time is lengthier than 15 or 20 minutes a day. The student begins to learn more serious piano literature.  Practice sessions involve more technique with exercises to improve the fingers and the ear.

Most parents can tell the difference between their child suffering through learning an instrument they dislike, and one going through growing pains. If  you think it’s growing pains, encourage your child and help them to stick with it.  Here’s why.

A child engages both sides of the brain when they study piano. Both hands and all fingers learn to operate independently. They problem solve, they learn creative interpretation, they develop listening skills, and they learn tenacity.  Research reported in National Geographic calls piano study a “cognitive training program” that later on benefits aging brains.

After the year three difficulties, there’s smoother sailing, and your child learns that effort and stick-to-it-tive-ness pays off.

 

 

Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity

When I teach science, I look for opportunities to integrate the arts because the arts are means of expression for everyone. To me, it doesn’t matter if you know much about classical music. It’s more important to use music and help others to enjoy it by making direct connections with other disciplines.

You can do this, too.

For example, The Planets, composed in 1914-1915 by British composer Gustav Holst, is a suite of pieces inspired by his understanding of astronomy and astrology. My favorite piece is “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” because its musical themes are recognizable to many.

After learning about the solar system, I’ve asked children to listen to “Jupiter,” had them evaluate what they hear in the piece, and then determine if it expands or deepens their understanding of the planet. This is quite sophisticated for children of any age, but I’ve been astonished at the insights of even young students.

You can follow the lead by listening to the great Leonard Bernstein speak about The Planets. “Jupiter” begins at about 24:58.

Inspiration and Perspiration

I’m reminded of inventor Thomas Edison’s words:

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.*

For some time, educators have discussed how students need to develop “grit,” that quality of tenacity, stick-to-it-tive-ness, and “perspiration.” VG.StarryNight The term has a particular edge to it that means to encourage students to work through difficulties–say, in following through with a big project, or puzzling out a complex math problem.

Grit is good.  But what about inspiration? I think there’s more to inspiration than one percent.

When you surround your family with music, art, books, travel, being outdoors, and opportunities to play, you help inspire children.  For example, if you watch and listen when children play dress up or Legos, you might hear bits of stories and experiences woven in to their play.  Those bits are inspiration that feed your child’s creative imagination.

Some children become so inspired to continue this kind of play that they stick to it until they feel finished.  That’s grit or perspiration.  And it always begins with inspiration.

 

 

 

Bartlett, J. (1968). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 14th Edition. Boston: Little, Brown.

 

Writing a Love Letter to a Child

Some time ago, my husband and I agreed to stop spending more than $2.00 on a card. Later on, we scratched even the $2.00 and resumed our note writing. I say “resumed” because back in college, we wrote love letters to each other every week for two years.

I saved every one of his. Forty years later, I discovered them bundled together in our cellar.

His handwriting hasn’t changed much. He used his own voice, wrote in his style, from his heart. His love sings clearly and he writes about specifics—what he’s thinking of me as he rushes off for work, how he feels as he drives home. The letters said things that were meant only for me. Above all, he took the time to send it in an envelope with a stamp, something rare today.IMG_4572

Believe it or not, there’s a parallel here to home and the classroom. We educators are taught to give specific praise to a child. “You chose an excellent synonym for ‘yellow’” helps the child more than the generic “Good job!” Not that “good job!” is wrong, but it can mean anything to anyone.

It’s the same thing with Valentine’s Day cards. Why purchase generic messages? Write a handwritten love letter to your child, full of specific things that only you know and notice.

Also, remember that the best love letters are personal.  In forty years, your child might even have a bundle of them, in their own cellar, to rediscover.

A Shiver of Sharks

“It’s Shark Week!” The radio voice awakened me with this news, which I thought was an awesome way to start the day.

This tooth is more than an inch long and still quite sharp. (K.Nollet 2015)

This tooth is more than an inch long and still quite sharp. (K.Nollet 2015)

Sharks thrill us with wonder, curiosity, and fear. Once you learn more about sharks, though, the fear usually turns to respect. That’s how I feel when I visit the beach in Venice, Florida.

Notice the different colors. (K.Nollet, 2015)

Notice the different colors. (K.Nollet, 2015)

Prehistoric sharks’ teeth wash up everywhere. One look at these shiny dark triangles and my mind starts organizing a math lesson. Or a science project. Or writing and art. You get the idea.

This summer, why not collect objects from the natural world to bring to your children? It doesn’t matter if they’re from your local park or someplace exotic. Display your finds at a child’s level, add a few books, and watch their curiosity grow.

 

 

N.B. Shiver refers to a group of sharks.

Music for Trust, Focus, and Clarity

My children attended a high school that encouraged its students to listen to music if it helped them focus on their work. Neither ear buds, nor phones, nor iPods were banned.

Do you prefer piano music? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Do you prefer piano music? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

I like this philosophy of beginning with trust. It shows both faith in a student’s ability to make appropriate choices, and then values the student’s choice.

Do you see the suggestion of raindrops in Chopin's score? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Note the suggestion of raindrops in Chopin’s score.(Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Students who were distracted by music received help or support depending on their needs. The teachers’ overarching goal was to help students learn what worked best and helped them concentrate.

For me, it depends on what the task is, so I adjust my environment accordingly. Favorite musical soundtracks, jazz, or early music are some of what I use. Today, I offer Frédérik Chopin’s (1810-1849) Prelude No. 15 in D-flat Major, also known as the “Raindrop.”  How does this piece work for you?

My Mother the Yodeler

“Yodel-ay-hee-hooo!” sang my mother in the car. She had a natural talent for it, learned it as a camp counselor, and once she got going, she’d spin the yodel part like this:

          Yooooo—de-yo-de-yo-de-yo-de-yo-de-lay-hee-hoooo!

After The Sound of Music movie came out, and Julie Andrews sang “The Lonely Goatherd,” it was fun to have a mother who could yodel on request. No one else’s mother could.

Yodeling originated in the Alps as a form of communication, which makes this Jimmy Fallon/Brad Pitt Tonight Show video  even more hilarious:

 

Buried Treasure: X Marks the Spot

Before students write a story, ask them to draw an illustrated map.  Visualizing, creating, drawing, painting, coloring, and discussing a map stimulates the imagination in ways that words sometimes cannot.

It worked for Robert Louis Stevenson (1854-1894), who spent a rainy day with his son drawing this map, which inspired his masterpiece Treasure Island:

This marvelous text in Treasure Island came to Stevenson after he drew the map:

“The paper had been sealed in several places with a thimble…The doctor opened the seals with great care, and there fell out the map of an island…shaped…like a fat dragon standing up…three crosses of red ink…”Bulk of treasure here  (Stevenson,  p.47).

 

 

Stevenson, R.L., (1911). Treasure Island. Illustrations by N.C. Wyeth. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. (Original work published 1883).

Source for map:

Source for text: OpenLibrary.org: https://archive.org/stream/treasureisland00stev#page/46/mode/2up