Making Music Together, Apart

Well, we are back in music class after the summer recess. And Cora is back to running circles around the group as most of the other kids sing and dance with their parents and our teacher Leigh. As long-time readers already know, and you can too if you read this post from last year, I think the world of Leigh and have learned so much from being a student in, and of, her work in with young children. You’ll also know that Leigh has encouraged me to embrace Cora’s ways of working through the music, even when those contrast with what the rest of the class is doing. And, as I’ve written before, that isn’t always easy for me to do.

Today I reached the end of my rope. Cora was joyfully running around, between, and through the group as we sang and danced. I was singing and following Leigh’s direction, trying not to let Cora’s behavior stop me from participating, but simultaneously feeling like she was disrupting others and that we were in no way making music together. What was the point. For the first time since our first class a year ago, I actively tried to control her body by reaching my arms out to draw her in as she zoomed past me and begging her to sing with me.

Then, this afternoon while we were on the swings, something amazing happened, as it seems to do just when I need it to. I started singing a song Cora likes from the new collection, “There’s a Little Wheel Turning in my Heart” (here’s another version) and Cora asked me to stop singing that song and asked me to sing something else. As I started the new song, she sang about the little wheel. She was not distracted by the words or melody I was signing. I went through three very different songs, but the she just kept turning that little wheel…

I’m not exactly sure what that demonstrates. Maybe Leigh can help me figure that out. But I do know we’ll be back in class next week. And I’ll try to remember that even when it seems otherwise, my child is learning. Often much more than I can imagine.

Permission to Play: Paint by Squirt Gun

I had a stroke of genius today. Luckily, Google was there to tell me just how many other parents of toddlers already had the same idea, and wrote about it on their blogs.

With Crafty Cora’s birthday party next week, I’ve been brainstorming activities to entertain her and her wee friends. I’m going with a kind of carnival theme. I figure that way they games don’t have to have too much in common. I’m thinking of making a little passport that parents can put stickers in as their kids finish each “event.” There will be a tricycle course, balloon jump, balance beam, bean bag toss, and other things I haven’t thought of yet. I was considering something where kids shoot squirt guns to knock things down, but I know their aim isn’t that good yet. And then I had the idea!

Cora and I often bring food coloring into the bath tub. We have a set of translucent tupperware that are red, yellow, and blue which we use to play with mixing and changing the colors. Every time we do it I think about all the conversations I have had with students over the years about teaching the elements of art and how I have advocated going beyond such formal art lessons. Somehow, however, this activity never gets old and I know Cora is learning not only about the interactions of color (Albers, 1963), but also about scientific principles like cause and effect. This is playful learning.

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Could we put the colored water in squirt guns?

On a quick run to the friendly neighborhood Target, we found some little squirters (on sale for the end of the summer!) and filled them up as soon as we got home. Cora was engaged from the first shot. We hung an old cloth over her easel and set to work. After about half an hour we had completely filled our canvas with a beautiful tie dye. I think I had just about as much fun as she did exploring the different kinds of marks we could make by moving our arms in different ways as we shot or moving our bodies closer or farther from our work. I can’t wait to see how the kids (and adults) at the party explore this process.

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Postscript: I would be remise not to report just briefly on what my Google search for “squirt gun painting” revealed. Most posts advised against painting with food coloring because it stains. I think washable tempera is pretty damned hard to remove too. So, pick your poison, I guess.

Some parents, including one very angry Montessori mother, questioned the use of water guns and made me wonder why I didn’t question that more. Of course, her kid was involved in an activity, at school, where kids were shooting at other kids. Little Tykes meets paintball. I can remember the first time I saw Cora playing with “shooters” at her friend Maya’s house. Watching her shoot at me with foam bullets jarred me for a moment, but I think I was more concerned when I first saw her put on a princess dress and talk in a lilting voice about going to a ball.

Finally, I came across a Kickstarter campaign run by NYC-based artist Brian Ermanski, to fund a series of squirt gun paintings. Further Googling revealed Ermanski has earned a reputation as a sort of “bad boy of the art world” and his squirt gun series, of which I can find no documentation online other than this youtube video with just 21 views (3 of which were mine), seems like it was just another art world stunt.

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 1, No. 7

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Fall is a time of mixed emotions for gardeners. I quietly mourn ten months without fresh tomatoes as I pull used-up vines from the ground. But, as I place those vines in the compost and bury garlic cloves in the ground, I’m already planning for next spring. And here in central Ohio, there is still about a month ’til our first frost; plenty of time to grow some salad greens.

As we take down this year’s garden, we consider what we might do differently next year. What worked in its current location? What didn’t? How can we rotate plants around to help keep the soil healthy and strong and to make it easier to harvest our bounty. These are the lessons of Strega Nona’s Harvest (dePaola, 2009).

If you don’t know Strega Nona, you ought to. I wrote about her original story (dePaola, 1975) and it’s relation to the German folk tale “The Magic Porridge Pot” last month. In this story, Strega Nona teaches her young charges all about saving, planting, and tending seeds. While Strega Nona carefully plans and plants her garden, yielding well-ordered rows of fruits and vegetables, Big Anthony just throws his seeds in the ground and winds up with a jungle of bushes and vines. This year, my garden was more like Big Anthony’s and while I don’t much mind so long as my plants produce yummy food, I was already planning to do things differently next year. Reading Strega Nona’s advice just pushed me along.

So, I’m off to make notes in my libro del giardino (garden notebook) and get starting planning for Spring 2014.