It’s Saturday morning and you have a list of chores to complete. One of them is to fix part of the backyard fence. The wear of winter snow tore away some lengths of wire from the wooden posts, which are somewhat rotted.
Your child tags along. You talk to her out loud as you poke around in your workbench drawers. Which would work best, nails or staples? Should you try one first? Staple gun or hammer? Bungee cords? A tape measure? A shovel or not? A wheelbarrow? When your work apron and hers are full of supplies, out you go to fix the fence.
This scenario is the beginning of learning to tinker, to fix, to mess around, to try out an idea and then adapt it until it works. It’s the foundation of problem solving and visualizing and talking back and forth about what might work and why.
When children use real tools to solve real problems, it creates an opportunity for a parent to help show that tinkering around is real life problem solving. Find ways to involve your child in tinkering. You’ll be well on your way to building a good, solid, parent and child bond.
Problem solving stretches far beyond a math lesson, into every facet of a child’s education. When you use music as an intentional strategy, you’re building music lovers who will be problem solvers. Active listening (what do you hear?), imagination (what are the possibilities?), and sustained focus (what do you think is the composer’s message?)
You don’t need to be a music educator, nor do you need to know a lot about music to do this. Here’s one way to build music lovers and problem solvers:
Start with an easy-to-listen-to piece like The Moldau, by the Czech composer Smetana. It’s about a journey down the River Moldau and what pictures the composer paints along the way.
Ask children to listen for small streams, a rural wedding, white water rapids, a stately castle.
Discuss what everyone heard. Play the piece again. Have students draw what they heard.
The results show you what children heard in an unfamiliar piece of music, what they heard their peers say, and how they learned to incorporate it into a larger picture.
It’s not a stretch to see how music lovers become problem solvers. We need more of them in our world, especially ones who listen.
When I heard that today was National Fudge Day, I dug out my grandmother’s recipe book to find “Fudge Without Cooking.” Grammy reused and recycled many things, including two pieces of plywood from her friend Mrs. Bagelmann’s husband, a pharmacist. Inside, she handwrote, typed, or taped recipes on stiff manila cardboard pages.
Following a fudge recipe with children creates the perfect opportunity for practicing math skills. It’s a great way for students to help build confidence using math. Recipes involve other skills, too, like reading, comprehension, vocabulary, planning strategies to solve problems, thinking, rethinking, timing, and lots of measurement and estimation.
Plus, it’s fun to hear students hypothesize about why a potato is in the fudge.
Approach using this recipe any way you wish. I’d probably provide the ingredients, tools, and a microwave and tell a small group of students that I had faith in their ability to figure it out. Then, I’d assess them along the way.
For others who prefer to take it step by step, consider this approach:
1. Students read the recipe. Ask “What ingredients do you need and how much of each? What is your plan to obtain them?”
2. Student read the list of ingredients. Ask “What units of measurement are used in this recipe? What tools will you need? How is unsweetened chocolate different from a candy bar? How many potatoes do you estimate make 1/3 cup?”
3. Students explain the tasks that the verbs indicate, including if they need tools to complete them. Ask them about melt, blend, mix, sift, add, knead, turn out, press.
(I encourage teachers, parents, or grandparents to let the child talk more than you do. It’s easy to jump in and tell the answer, but don’t. The best hands-on learning lets students discover on their own.)
Continue and release the responsibilities as much as you can. Click on the recipe to enlarge it.
This recipe was originally printed in Parade magazine, in 1971 or 1972. The Parade Food Editor was Beth Merriman and the photo was by Walter Strelnick.