Saturday, February 28, 2009

Twinkle vs. Starkle? Points of View

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!

When the blazing sun is gone,

When there's nothing he shines upon,

Then you show your little light,

Twinkle, twinkle, through the night.

In the dark blue sky so deep,

Through my curtains often peep

For you never close your eyes

'Til the morning sun does rise

Starkle, starkle, little tink,

Who you are, I do not think.

Sitting in your house so small,

On that little blue-green ball.

Starkle, starkle, little tink

I can even see you wink.

Starkle, starkle, little tinky,

For all I know, you might be stinky.

Your sun is in the way all day,

Then I cannot see you play.

Starkle, starkle, little tinky,

You look like my little pinky.

In this place called outer space,

I'm a lonely little face.

I try to sparkle and give light, (smile)

Especially when it is your night.

Starkle, starkle, little tink,

What I AM, you now can think.

Below this small picture of our galaxy, the Milky Way, I wrote the three old verses of the "public domain's" -Twinkle, twinkle, Little Star. It is still a favorite of all kindergarteners. I then took the liberty of rearranging and inverting those words to create my impression of what we might look like from a distant star..."a little tink" on our small, blue-green planet orbiting a medium-sized star in our small galaxy called the "Milky Way". It involves "verbal play" and humor which is so much a part of a kindergartener. It should be part of their teachers too, in my opinion.

It also puts "our world" (through a kindergartener's eye) in perspective. So much, now days, depends on our attitude. Our attitude "creates" our perceptions, thus our world. We may all think we have, economic, cultural etc. but they seem to pale, shrink and become infinitismally small when considering the immensity of the Universe, let alone our small Galaxy and Solar System.

When I introduced and taught this song four times to four different Kindergartens this week, I showed them a big, four-foot long "photo" of our "Milky Way" from a side view. It was created by assembled snapshot from Hubble. Quite alot of artistic liberty was involved. However, it made the point to students and teacher alike that...our Sun and Solar System, a tiny, pin-point speck in a middle arm of our average-sized Galaxy is...awesomely minuscule in the scheme of ALL. Our effect/affect on any of it/us is therefore so small and seemingly unimportant that it causes us to "wonder what we are" doing here? seeing here? Is "here" really here? Maybe it is "there".

Our new "hight frequency word" in class Friday was "here"...I showed them how easy it was to change it to "T here" It all depends on where you put your eyes and your point of view. The teacher I was subbing for had just been called away suddenly with a death in the family. She has also been struggling this year with being a cancer survivor. She has been supported by her wonderful staff and colleagues at her school who stepped in and wrote her lesson plans. I'll be back there next week to help out in any small way that I can. It is the class/teacher that I have been volunteering for these past/passed four years of retirement. I am privileged and blessed. RRR

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Appalachia Orthodontia

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
Stood a cow on the railroad tracks.
'Twas a nice old cow,
With eyes so fine...
But you can't expect a cow
To read a railroad sign.
So, she stood in the middle of the track,
And the train came along
And hit her right in the back!
Now, her horns are in the mountains of Virginia,
And her tail is on the lonesome spine.
Whenever I hear about Appalachia, I remember this "parody" song my mother taught me. She probably learned it when she married and went to visit her inlaws in Eastern Kentucky. This is right next to Western Virginia. I think the original song was "On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine" and was popular in her day. I think it referred to the "animals" in Appalachia not being too smart or used to civilization. This is an isolated area of our country and it is out of touch even today. Last week, Diane Sawyer, who is from Ky., did a "20/20" dedicated to the children of this poverty stricken area.
It was very heart wrenching for me having visited there many times as a kid. I wasn't aware of their plight then and saw no evidence of poor nutrition, drugs etc. I have written about my blissful summer days there and all the fun we had. The homes in the area I visited, my grandparent's, had small farms with "kitchen gardens" for "greens" and chickens, cows etc. Their "collard greens, string beans, corn bread etc. were delicious. Yes, they smoked and chewed "tobacky", as they called it. Their teeth were probably not the adults. I went online and volunteered to help.
This last week, I had a bit of a shock teaching a local second grader. She came in early and showed me a big gap in her teeth. This isn't unusual for this age to lose their "baby teeth". I replied, as I usually do, "You saved them for the tooth fairy, right?" "No," she said, "the Dental kept them." "Oh, you had them pulled?" "No, they were loose, like this one and had to come out." I then noticed how decayed her few other teeth were. "Too many sweets," she said, matter-of-factly.
On the long walk to the cafeteria, she was last in line and continued her "comments" me(?) "I hope I get some extra food from some of the kids today because all we have at home is a box of cereal." "Will the ladies give you extra?" "No, but some kids will, before they throw it away."
I came over to where she was sitting with her friend and noticed she only had a sweet, chocolate milk pouch and five small chicken nuggets. She and her buddy proceeded to take each nugget and break it up into little (less than) bite-sized pieces. I asked her why she did that and she said they were easier to chew. Other kids had also chosen an apple and a box of raisins. I asked her why she hadn't picked an apple. "I can't bite it, my teeth will come out...(painful face)." I went and found her a raisin box. I asked her later if she had eaten the raisins? She said no because she didn't like raisins. They are full of iron, but sweet.
At the 2:P.M. recess the regular teacher had left a snack of graham crackers in wax paper. I asked her to pass them out individually to each kid as they went out to the playground. There were four left at the bottom of the pack. I told her she could have them and take them home. "Don't eat them in class." She was overjoyed.
She did all her lessons and got 100% on her math test. She was attentive and had fun with our music and drama skits later. She was out-going and vivacious with many of her classmates. I felt so sorry for her and I left the regular teacher a detailed note. I hope the nurse or principal follows up. You have an excellent example here of the beginning of a real health/educational problem that is probably more prevalent in our local classrooms. It is a real-life demonstration of "hierarchy of needs" (Maslow?) Most of the kids get breakfast and lunch from this school. The bus brings many of them early and they have to stand and wait in the cold, windy, outdoor hallway for several minutes before the food is ready in the A.M. The schedule of the bus gets them there too early and school doesn't start until 9:05. Lunch is before noon and a P.M. snack is afterschool for those (most) who have to stay until 5 or 6 P.M. in day care waiting for their parents to pick them up. And we wonder why our educational system is failing us? It starts at home and seems to continue at school. Have we learned nothing from that cow in the Blue Ridge Mountains? RRR

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Young bloom?

Do you remember your first crush?...Your first "puppy luv"? Did it happen at school?...In kindergarten or first grade? Did it hit you in pre-school? I've recently witnessed all of the above and it is inspiring on a day like today...Valentine's Day. It must be a cultural thing to some degree. I saw an article in the newspaper about India's public disdain for such "PDA's". Their traditions are being threatened by our "western proclivities" (also Christian i.e. Saint Valentine) They prefer to keep it all private and in the family-at-large with eventual brides and grooms being chosen and pre-arranged by the family elders. Then there is the slow process of "growing into" love. Who knows what is best...what works? Their divorce rate is much lower.

However, I digress once again. I had to sub in a classroom yesterday that celebrated Valentine's Day Eve. (Friday, the 13th! we didn't go there...since it was a first grade) I have been subbing in this room alot this year and have gotten to know them all by name/personality. I have observed "young luv" blossoming. Last week it was in assembly seating, holding hands, arms around shoulders etc....yes, in first grade. I separated the couples and wrote notes to their regular teacher. Yesterday, during early lessons, I again noticed they had switched seats without permission. All very "tame" mind you but still very evident and persistent.

We did the usual party the last hour of class. Certain students/parents had brought cupcakes, cookies, candy treats. No parents volunteered to stay. This is usually a given in the primary, but not at this school I guess. Those who brought treats got to pass them out during the preceeding recess. They loved it. It was cold and almost rainy outside. Then those who brought Valentines Cards for "all class members" had to walk around and delivier them to the desks. They had been warned by their regular teacher not to pass out to "favorites" first (or only). We put on some "music about love" and some happy banjo music (see previous post) and...let them go at it. Since it was Friday, they were used to the last half hour being "Fun Friday" if they had turned in their homework. This was a "review week" homework. Fun Friday allows "free choice" of computer games, floor games, table games or...a big hit, writing on the white board. So I insisted that they finish their food treats and reading their valentines before they got up to roam the room for games...with their sticking hands. I played dominoes with 5 at a time. We sang a love song (without uke) that they could sing to their little brothers and sisters when they got home: "Skiddamarinky dinky dink" Most of them knew it.

We only had one child who couldn't handle the "freedom" without getting upset and tattling twice. He was put in "P.O.C." (Prisoner of Chair) for the rest of the party hour...tears. This was the way we motivated undivided attention all during the day's lessons...P.O.C. They got 4 warnings i.e. name on board, and three subsequent warnings where they had distracted themselves or others from the lesson. They also had to put their name on the board if they asked to go to the restroom more than once during the lessons. (some want to run to the distant restrooms every 15 mins.) Recess is for playing, not drinks and restrooms. Sounds harsh, but it become necessary at this level. One cutie, all dressed in pink, red and white stripes...even her leotards, came back from a trip in tears. She had been running, tripped and fell. She tore a big hole in her stockings at the knee and was bleeding. I sent her, with a friend, to the nurse for a bandaid.

The absent teacher's desk was piled high with "love notes" and treats. They missed her. I even got a couple cards and a balloon. Her lesson plans included printed, colored heart candy treats that they had to organize, count and make a bar graph with. They enjoyed that but had to be reminded not to eat the lesson too soon. "We did this last year in Kindergarten." "Oh well," I replied, "this time you can do it better and faster. What else could we count and display in a graph?" Cards? Pencils? Crayons? Classmates we luv? RRR

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Daddy Played The Banjo?

"Daddy played the banjo
'neath the yellow tree.
It rang across the backyard,
an old time melody.
I loved to hear the music.
I was only five.
I listened as his fingers made
the banjo come alive.
Sometimes I'd wake up at night
and hear a distant tune.
The banjo would echo
'round my childhood room.
I'd sneak down the back stairs.
Daddy never knew.
I'd grab a broom and make believe
I was pickin' too.
One day Daddy put my fingers
down upon the strings.
He picked it with his other hand.
We made the banjo ring.
Now the music takes me back
across the yellowed age,
to the summers with my Dad
and the tunes he played.
But I'm just tellin' lies
about the things I did.
See I'm that banjo player
who never had a kid.
Now I sit beneath that yellow tree...
hopin' that a kid somewhere
is listenin' to me.
Daddy played the banjo
'neath the yellow tree.
It rang across the backyard
and wove a spell on me.
Now the banjo takes me through
(all) the foggy days...
where memories of
what never was
become the good old days.
S. Martin & G. Scruggs
"The Crow"
This is the first song on Steve Martin's new CD. It sets the stage for fourteen more truly exquisite banjo masterpieces. This particular song (above) "strikes a chord" (pun intended) with me because it does just what the words me memories of what could've been but never were. When you are retired and getting older, nostalgia is big, especially cloudy, partial memories that get all mixed up with good feelings and fun times. Banjos seem to do that for me. They say, "Banjos can't play a sad tune." I don't know about that...maybe "a heritage of mountain music (blue grass) that could've been. I've always had an affinity for this type of music, i.e. fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, even ukulele, autoharp and dulimer. Whenever I hear it now days, I pause and really listen and tap my toe, or slap my knee. I might whistle the tune if I don't know the words. I think my folks played it on the radio in L.A. and about two weeks every year in the summer for many years we took our trip to dad's homestead in Kentucky. He grew up in "coal-mining" country with lots of hills and the hollows (valleys in between) called "hollers"...because the form of communication from one to another was just that. On most evenings, warm and humid we'd all sit on the front porch, chairs, double swings on chains and the steps and tell stories, listen to the radio or even play/sing live music. He had 10 brothers and sisters and some were still around. I, then, didn't realize what precious times those were. I was out chasing fireflies and catching them for the fruit-canning jar. I was in kid heaven because I got to go barefoot the whole time. I got to eat gramma's biscuits and gravy and fried chicken that she got from the backyard. She matter-of-factly caught one, swung it around over her head by the neck and let it run around the yard...headless. What a shock to a "city boy". I found and collected a weed called "life everlasting" and tried to smoke it. Yuk!
Steve Martin has brought me other memories that are kind of "foggy". I remember seeing him perform as a very young man at the "Birdcage Theater" in Knott's Berry Farm. He played the banjo then as part of his "warm-up" act and then he was the hero in the on-going melodramas there. I kinda remember taking my best girlfriend there on a "church social" and after the theater and the chicken dinner with rhubarb dessert, I got down on my knee in the car (my monza) and proposed to her ...In Song! "Two lovin' arms one faithful heart..."
When I began to teach it was a natural-no-brainer to incorporate music into my lessons - both performing/listening and participating/singing in groups. I went to the folk music center to learn banjo, guitar and autoharp from the owner. She was amazing. In my plays/dramas I always tried to put in appropriate intro/exit mood music of a folk or classical nature. I sang with my classes the folk ways and had regular "hootin' Nannies". I even held the autoharp the upright, folk way. I felt the most accomplished with the baritone uke. I play it to this day. It is in the shop (Folk Music Center) getting a crack repaired. The rooms of kids I visit as a sub usually request it..."only if you sing along", I say. It always leads into many verses and a "dramatizations" of some sort. Our latest was "Alligators All Around" from "Really Rosie" by Carole King. This was from her musical for young kids. It goes through the whole alphabet with alliterative activities.
So many kids now days have "absent fathers". It takes a toll. They have to develop their own "memories" of ghost fathers who might play the banjo, or teachers who might love to play and sing their lessons. I'm a lucky guy. RRR