Quoth the Ravens? “Watch Me Parent.”

The ravens at Wellesley College, in Wellesley MA, have returned for a second year and are caring for three nestlings. Picasso.WomanWithRaven.Watch them live on Wellesley’s  Ravencam.

Check my 2014 post about them. The ideas I shared for teachers are terrific activities for parents to use during April school vacation.

This year, I am mesmerized by the ravens’ parenting skills. Both parents share in the care and are neither helicopter nor “free range.” These highly intelligent birds balance nature and nurture. A sensible balance provides protection and food with support for getting out of the nest and into the world.

You just know that when it’s time, the raven parents will be firm about learning to fly. No going backwards. No hovering. No meeting their own needs through their children’s.   Simply getting on with the business at hand.

 

 

 

Shown: Woman with Raven, Pablo Picasso, 1904.  Source: WikiArt.

 

Organ Crawls: The Ultimate School Field Trip

The only bad thing about being an organist is that you can’t take the King of Instruments with you. No cases, gig bags, or covers exist: you must travel to the instrument. That means you are in church a lot to practice, perform, or even to go on organ crawls.

St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)
Hook & Hastings organ at St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)

Organ crawls are tours through the insides of pipe organs to see how they work and to appreciate each instrument’s unique beauty. I learned to play on a tracker (meaning mechanical note action, as opposed to electronic) organ, the kind featured in organ crawls.

Note that organ pedalboards are arranged like keyboards. St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)
Note that organ pedalboards are arranged like keyboards. St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)

Going inside this organ was like going inside a unique house. Built in 1889 by Woodbury and Harris (not pictured), the organ had a huge, old-fashioned bellows that had since been electrified.

One day the power went out during a service, so a tenor ran inside the organ to hand pump the bellows as I played. Otherwise, there’d have been no air and no sound.

Science, technology, engineering, math teachers, unite! Get with the art and music teachers and take your students on an organ crawl—a free field trip that you can walk to if you’re lucky.

Outdoors With Paints

“Were you painting outside?” asked my husband. He knew the answer. IMG_3571And it wasn’t that one of our resident woodchucks had awakened and marched outside dragging paints and a brush.

A rediscovered, unused set of acrylic paints had awakened me. I gathered a handful of brushed and dashed outside to my canvas: the snow.

Flicks of red, arcs of green, drops of blue, inclusive of animal tracks. The brushes were too small to get the effects I wanted. My hands froze without gloves. But it wasn’t the final product that mattered, it was the desire to try something new and enjoy the fun of self-expression.

Most children feel this way, too. They like to enjoy the freedom to express themselves in new ways.IMG_3577
If they paint in the snow, let them see how their art changes with lower temperatures.

Teachers, lead your children to fling around some paint today. Parents or grandparents?  You come, too.*

 

 

*Phrase borrowed from The Pasture by Robert Frost (c. 1915)

 

Art and Empathy

Look at this fantastic work, The Sower, by Van Gogh, painted in 1888. Give your eyes time to move and rest on details. As you do this, pay attention to your reactions to what you see. Note the thoughts, emotions and feelings that arise inside you.

The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

Are you startled by the richness of the sun or do your fingers itch to trace its grooves? Does your mind imagine hearing the sower’s feet pressing into the earth? Who is the sower and what is his story?

When we tune in to an experience with art like this one, we learn a new way to talk with children about empathy. I think that one of the best reasons to use art is to build understanding and strong connections to humankind.  Learning to see and experience through new eyes—or the eyes of another—challenges our minds to grow.

Education philosopher Maxine Greene urges us to realize that understanding  art through experience is an essential part of every child’s education.  I agree.  Whenever I think about the history of human civilization, art and empathy appear together as the deepest elements of our story, as deep as the grooves on Van Gogh’s radiant sun.