Category Archives: kindergarten lessons about life

(the other) MARY’S MUSIC

St. Augustine: "He who sings prays twice."

St. Augustine: “He who sings prays twice.”

Hummel figurines of young children singing, blowing horns, and beating drums.

Hummel figurines of young children singing, blowing horns, and beating drums.

With only a few weeks until Christmas, I want to make it clear that this story is about my mother, Mary, and not THE well-known Other Mary. This is one of my favorite stories about how my mother used music in a surprising way to teach young children.

See the picture below of my mother in her 20s, weighing 98 pounds, and teaching kindergarten in a Kansas City school. Mom is in the top row, third from the left end. My cousin Beth, now a grandmother herself, was 5 and visiting my mother’s class that day; she is in the first row, left side at the end.

This story is about a young boy in Mom’s class, a very active, non-attentive, uncooperative, rambunctious boy. One day, after he’d pushed a child, punched another, and grabbed crayons from a third, my mother broke away from the expected discipline. She put her hands on his shoulders, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Oh, Tommy, you must be very tired or I’m sure you wouldn’t act this way. So I’m going to help you find a place to rest.”

She took his nap mat and spread it out behind the old upright piano that sat at an angle near the corner of the room. Tommy had plenty of private space to stretch out behind the piano, but he could neither see nor be seen by the others.

Mom seated all the other children on the floor and she sat at the piano. She began playing and singing nursery melodies about little hands that go clap! clap! clap! and eyes that go blink! blink! blink! and so on. One song, then the next, happy children singing loudly and laughing along with their teacher.

When they stopped to catch their breaths, a little voice behind the piano called out. “I’m all rested, Teacher. I know how to act now.” And he did. Tommy was very helpful after that. And any time he began to slip, she asked if he needed another rest. He didn’t.

Many years later, when I was teaching Transcendentalism to my high school English students, one of my favorite quotes by Henry David Thoreau was this: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

It was then that my mother told me the story of Tommy. She laughed, adding, “That works, as long as the individual steps to his own music without stomping on others.” She was very encouraging of individuality, of each person following his own inner beat of a different drum, as long as it didn’t hurt someone else.

This ends (the other) Mary’s lesson, for both children and adults, just in time for the push-and-shove, sugar-high, holiday chaos. And also, if it weren’t for her dementia, my mother would probably remind us to never give young children drums for Christmas. Or any time, actually, unless they live somewhere else and will take the drums with them.

Decades later, Mom's own great-grandchildren; Grace is about the age Mom's kindergarten students were in the big picture.

Decades later, Mom’s own great-grandchildren; Grace is about the age Mom’s kindergarten students were in the big picture.

Mom (top row, third from left) ~ a young kindergarten teacher.

Mom (top row, third from left) ~ a young kindergarten teacher.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Henry David Thoreau, kindergarten lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations

ALL WE REALLY NEED TO KNOW

Rules adults, children...and politicians should know and follow are in this book.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Rules adults, children…and politicians should know and follow are in this book. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

 

Kindergarten teacher Mary Shepherd (3rd from left, back row) in 1944

Kindergarten teacher Mary Shepherd (3rd from left, back row) in 1944.  An added note: Beth, my cousin in Georgia–her picture playing the flute is in the post “Keepers of Memories” — and she told me she is the girl second from the left end on the first row! But she wasn’t in my mother’s class! For Beth’s funny story, read her comment at the end of the post.

Dear Mom,

Author and astrophysicist Carl Sagan wrote, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”   Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian minister, simplified what we really need to know in his successful 1988 book, ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.

The book grew out of  Fulghum’s speech at a primary school celebration where Senator Dan Evans happened to be in the audience. Evans was so moved by the basic truths in the speech that it was eventually read into the Congressional Record.  Major newspapers picked it up, and the rest was history.

Fulghum’s basic premise is that the wise rules needed to develop successful children and adults (and politicians, too, obviously) are found not in hallowed halls…but in sandboxes and on the playgrounds of life.  Here are a few of Fulghum’s short, simple and honest rules: Clean up your own mess…Don’t take things that aren’t yours…Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody…Wash your hands before you eat…Flush.

I bought Fulghum’s book for you when it first came out, Mom. As a former kindergarten teacher, you applauded the basic life truths, and you told me stories from the classroom, from teaching Sunday school and substituting in elementary classrooms…and also funny (and sometimes embarrassing) stories from when David and I were children.

That was many years ago. Now, as you lie in your bed after hip surgery, you don’t remember your stories or the successes you had raising your own children and helping other children. But I remember many of the stories, which is why I write this blog, so your great-grandchildren (and others) will know some of the many good things you did that made a difference.

It’s October now, Mom, and I remember one of your basic rules from this time of year:  When someone has raked a pile of leaves and you jump in it, afterwards be sure you rake it up again.  (Remember how we used to burn our piles of leaves–with you and Dad supervising, of course– and how wonderful the scent was on chilly autumn evenings?)

Here are some of your other “Basic Wisdom” rules I remember:  Eat an apple—or at least some slices—every day… When someone says mean things to you, the best way to get over it is to say nice things to someone else… When you borrow something, return it in better condition than it was… It’s better to take birthday treats for the whole class than to have a full birthday party and invite only some of the class but leave out others.

Mom, thanks to you and Robert Fulghum for teaching us the basic rules that everyone should follow to make the world a better place.

Maybe our blog friends will share some basic rules they learned! 

Ray and Mary's great-grandchildren making their own music.

Ray and Mary’s great-grandchildren making their own music.

Mary and Ray's children, Marylin and David, as young children.

Mary and Ray’s children, Marylin and David.

Chapman, KS elementary students learning team work.  Good job!

Chapman, KS elementary students learning team work. Good job!

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Filed under autumn lessons, Chapman KS, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, kindergarten lessons about life, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations