Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Music, Math, & a Wise Heart

Today was a math and music day so I set my mind to seeing numbers everywhere this morning.  In the process, a Social Studies lesson cropped up organically and reminded me that real wisdom is greater than knowledge.  

This week our Riverdog Farm veggie box contained about ten mandarin oranges. I noticed this morning that they were beginning to look mushy so we started the day with math.  First we counted the oranges -- ten.  Then I sliced them each in half -- twenty.  Only six halves fit on our cutting board and this created a great illustration of the number six as 3+3 and 3x2.  I juiced and Amelie handed the halves to me... this is subtraction.  Six pieces minus one piece equals five pieces. 

To a young one, making juice by hand demonstrates the amount of labor that goes into bringing just one glass to the table.  As we were juicing, I was reminded of a passage from Touching the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh and our Social Studies lesson began.

"Looking into my bowl of rice, I see clearly that this is the gift of the earth and the sky.  I see the rice field, the vegetable garden, the sunshine, rain, manure, and the hard work of the farmer.  I see the beautiful fields of golden wheat, the one who reaps the harvest, who threshes the grain, who makes the bread.  I see the beans sown in the earth becoming the beanstalk.  I see the apple orchard, the plum orchard, the tomato garden, and the workers who are cultivating the plants.  I see the bees and butterflies going from flower to flower collecting pollen to make sweet honey for me to eat.  I can see that every element of the cosmos has contributed to making this apple or this plum that I am holding in my hand or this leaf of steamed vegetable that I am dipping into the soy sauce.  My heart is full of gratitude and happiness."

I asked Amelie to think about all of the work that went into bringing these oranges to us and we talked while we squeezed.  "Looking deeply into our golden orange juice, what do you see?"  "I see the the seed that grew into a tree!"

The world is full of people who have accumulated information; however, a person who thinks with their mind and heart in alignment is a gem and often a real asset to our global community. Integrating core subjects helps develop a wise heart and honors the whole child. This encourages our kids to honor themselves and the world around them.  Since Kindergarten is a time for developmental play, awe and wonder, the last thing we want to do is override the senses, over-pressure a young mind, or put to much emphasis on the intellectual process.  If a child is directed into academic thinking too often and too soon, we risk getting them stuck up there in their head. 

One way we keep it fresh and fun is by making music.  Piano is a regular part of our curriculum and the benefits of music on the mind and body have been recognized since the days of the great Greek philosophers. Plato said music “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.” Visual and performing arts have a way of tapping into that part of us that is more than mind and, at the same time, music begins with math. 

According to the PBS Independent Lens documentary, Music from the Inside Out, A 1997 study by Rauscher and Shaw revealed that preschoolers who studied piano performed 34 percent better in spatial and temporal reasoning ability than preschoolers who spent the same amount of time learning to use computers. Preschoolers who took singing and keyboard lessons scored 80 percent higher on puzzle tests than students at the same preschool who did not have music lessons.

After Circle Time, we moved right into piano practice and got her mind working in sequences, repeating patterns, and thinking forwards and backwards.  Then it was time for her lesson and a little socialization with her music teacher.  The focus today was learning about intervals. Up and down the keys she went naming notes, repeating patterns, accessing both sides of her brain, and lighting up that part of us that is more than mind.

Back home, we reviewed the four processes of math with an art project and used watercolors to paint brightly colored sets of bugs.  This was great quality time together and we both enjoyed painting and then using colored markers to write out the math sentences. Three ladybugs plus three ladybugs plus three ladybugs equals nine ladybugs.  This emphasized what we'd done in the morning with our oranges.

After playtime and dinner it was time for cookie math.  Three rows of cookies with three cookies in each row equals nine cookies.  Add one more row and you've got three times four.  Our cookie math was another repetition of what we'd done this morning with oranges and before bed we added the finished product to her portfolio and reviewed the equations one more time. 

While the art supplies were out we returned to today's Social Studies lesson, Looking Deeply into the Orange Juice.  I asked Amelie to think back to this morning and draw all of the things she can see looking deeply.  She drew the tree with oranges, an orange falling from the tree, the veggie box they came in, the halved oranges, the compost bowl, a hand-squeezer, a half-full pitcher, and a glass with a straw.  She numbered the steps one through eight which told me that her math hat was still on and that she's still thinking in sequences.

Kids don't need to sit at a desk for hours memorizing math facts on a worksheet to become good at math.  Boring a child with written work isn't going to spark their curiosity in the subject and, from my experience, is likely to turn them away from it for good. Too often we praise dry academics and test scores over actual learning and overlook the inner-lives of our children.  When we include and integrate art and music with other core subjects, our kid's inner light turns on.  This nurtures both compassion and creativity rather than just intellect or memorization. 

I agree with Einstein.  Imagination is more important than knowledge... but greater than the imagination is the content of one's heart.  This can't be measured by standardized testing and it is the one thing most central to the continuation of a humane society.  Before we send our young learners out into the world, let's make sure they are ready.  The first step is honoring the whole child.
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