Does your family love to dance? Play soccer together? Deep-fry turkeys on special occasions? All are rituals that enrich family lives.
Mine was a family that loved to sing. When we were children, my grandmother accompanied us on the piano as she taught us folk songs and nursery rhymes.
My sisters and I sang Bobby Shafto in harmony while washing dishes. In the car, our mother taught us to sing the round White Coral Bells. When I learned to play the piano, my father appeared whenever he heard me play the introduction to The Bowery and he sang next to me.
Later, when our aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered for Christmas, we sang through Handel’s Messiah in four-part harmony. We weren’t professionals. Not everyone sang in tune. It was a family ritual and something we enjoyed.
Looking back, what do I think we children learned from all of the singing?
Certainly social and emotional skills—everyone participated and no one dared grouch along. Our ears learned to distinguish sounds (a reading skill) and rhythmic patterns (art, music and math skills). We learned to read lyrics that used words from different countries and eras (more reading). Our vocabularies grew with words like andante and diminuendo.
With rituals like this reinforced from all sides in a family, learning occurs and memories are made.
It doesn’t matter what your family sings—oldies, show tunes, or hymns—it’s the doing it together that helps children grow.
Shown: The Daughters of Catulle-Mendès at the Piano
Perhaps you’re working to gain freedom for the children in Tibet. Maybe fracking issues make you crazy or you are a member of Veterans for Peace. Or your focus might be more local, like saving a silver maple forest in a cherished reservation.
Do you care enough to grab your tuba or push yourself down the street with a couple of plungers?
Because that’s what people did at the 2014 HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands in Somerville and Cambridge, MA. The parade mixed zeal with fun and educated the spectators, providing welcome relief from the litany of terrible world problems in the news. Not that the HONK! groups didn’t make their points. They did. And they used larger-than-life sized puppets and funky costumes to do it.
Making the usual, unusual gives messages a fresh emphasis. Everyone in this parade found a personal and artistic perspective in community with others. That’s a valuable set of life lessons for all of us, accompanied by a dash of AfroBrazilian percussion.
I love to see parents and grandparents teaching children how to help change a larger world than their own. When learning starts in the family, it settles into childrens’ souls. And when it’s lodged there, you’ve given children tools that no one else but you can give. Add in some glitter and an orange feather boa–who knew that changing the world could be so much fun?
One of childhood’s pleasures is endangered. Swings are beginning to disappear from school and public playgrounds, mostly because adults worry about student injuries and lawsuits. As someone who has spent thousands of hours supervising recess, I prefer teaching children how to follow a few simple rules so they can enjoy the benefits of swinging while supervised. It’s worth this effort when you think about what children learn while gliding through fresh air.
First, they have to take turns because there are never enough swings to go around. The unspoken etiquette on playgrounds is universal: first come, first served, but don’t hog it. A child has to be fair about the amount of time spent swinging, and there are no better timekeepers than other children waiting for their turn. Already these lessons encompass enjoyment and sharing, patience and restraint, manners and learning to negotiate!
Sets of swings create the perfect laboratory to study the social and emotional development of children while they are happy and autonomous. Children talk, chant, sing, laugh, and get out of breath as they stretch, lean, and pump. I’ve noticed that children’s moods lift when they swing, too. There’s nothing like twirling yourself into dizziness and silliness to feel good and have fun.
Finally, swings teach children what freedom feels like. The wind slaps their cheeks and tousles their hair. They sail up to get a good view of their world and they learn that the harder they pump, they higher they can sail. Teachers know that observations of children at play reveal much about their growth, especially when children play without adult interruptions.
At home, if your swings are gone because you think your children are too old, put one back up and wait. You’ll be surprised to see who rediscovers them.
Drive west from Boston on Route 2 and as you enter the town of Leominster, Massachusetts, a huge sign welcomes you to the hometown of Johnny Appleseed, born here in 1774. Turn to the kids and ask what they know about this remarkable man. Share what you know about Johnny (Chapman) Appleseed. If you’re like me, you learned a sentimental version in elementary school. After reading a story about him, then you drew a picture of a nice man scattering apple seeds here and there around the countryside.
Not that this is bad! But there is so much more to know and enjoy about Johnny Appleseed. Find out if your child has read Steven Kellogg’s Johnny Appleseed: A Tall Tale Retold and Illustrated. If she says yes, read it again together. Picture books like this one, with outstanding art and text, always have something new for readers to discover. Take time to talk about the map in the back of the book. I confess I didn’t know he spent much of his life in Ohio.
One thing I love about reading with children is the conversations I have with them. It’s wonderful to not have all the answers and let them teach you. However, if your interested is piqued, read Howard Means’ book Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story. It’s readable and it untangles countless legends that surround John Chapman’s life.
Now it’s time to make and eat warm apple crisp with your child. Great conversations take place over food, don’t they? All in all, a happy experience shared.
What’s in your pocket today? Keys, coins, lip balm? Tomorrow, remember to slip in a poem.
This year’s Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 24, a day for everyone to celebrate. It’s free and fun. You select a poem or favorite lines from one. Copy it, fold it up, put it in your pocket to share with others. Get your peers and friends to do it, too. Throughout the day enjoy all of the poems–funny, sublime, solemn, or clever.
Sometimes I feel shy about sharing poems. Perhaps it’s because many poems evoke personal connections that reside deep inside. It’s far less risky to share other forms of art, like books or music, because they seem more mainstream. However, my perspective expanded during a trip to California a few years ago.
On a warm, sunny day I’d planned a visit to a national historic forest. When Tom pulled his pickup van up to the hotel, I climbed aboard for a great adventure. We chatted during the half hour ride and he mentioned that he was a published poet.
Tom knew the forest well, and recommended certain vistas of natural beauty to experience on my hike. The conversation turned to his favorite bench in the forest, where he’d written a poem about the birth and strength of its trees. He recited it upon request and gave me his business card as I left.
The front of the card held his tour company information. On the back of the card was his poem.
I carried around his card in my pocket for months. And I learned a valuable lesson, too. Sharing poetry is a generous act that expands our connections to each other.
Click on the tab Kathy Shares for some of my favorite poems and lines
Elementary science projects are not just for kids. Good ones have something for everyone aged infant to one hundred! In autumn, your nearest deciduous tree has a lot to teach.
Make that tree into a cool science project. In fall, it’s experiencing the “Get-Off-Me Season.”
That’s what botanist Peter Raven calls it. In this 2009 NPR story, he explains how trees push off their leaves when no longer needed.
To learn this science in nature, try the following:
Listen to the 4-minute NPR story (transcript and pictures are below it).
Take children outside for a walk. Observe trees in different stages of “pushing.” Talk during the walk.
Collect and display fallen leaves. Include a branch with some leaves still attached.
Ask children to write a story using what they learned about science in nature.
Science ideas like this one show how science in natureis available for all, both at home and in school. This topic teaches listening, observation, discussion, evaluating, and creating–all skills that we reinforce in every grade.
Plus, any cool science project that involves a word like abscission is bound to be memorable.