Lazy Hazy Crazy Days

The old-time melody “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” evokes images of small town festivals, parades, popsicles, watermelon, and corn on the cob. It reminds us of our childhoods spent running through sprinklers and playing night games with the neighbor kids.

The summers of childhood have changed dramatically in the last generation. More and more children today spend their summers addicted to screens and computer games. We find ourselves over-scheduled with work, finding child care alternatives, summer camps, vacations, reunions, festivals, barbecues, and more. It’s easy to let the extra activities of summer overwhelm us and make us yearn for the predictable schedule of the school year. Some schools are already back in session!

Now our long summer days are shortening incrementally with every sunset. The oppressive heat is starting to abate ever so slightly. The back to school supplies hit the stores weeks ago. Our joy-packed Summermusik camps and classes have wrapped up. Many of us have spent our summer rushing from one activity to the next.

And while we may be looking forward to routines and cooler temperatures, we still have a little time to indulge our senses and renew our minds. Perhaps we can channel Mr. Nat King Cole’s memorable lyrics and eek a bit more summer out of the next couple of weeks.

So go out into your backyard with fresh eyes. Hunt for the nectar gathering bees. Take your little one by the hand and run through the sprinkler. Take your shoes off and let the sensory input of the dirt, sand, and grass ground you. 

Our Fall classes will be here before you know it. Reserve your spot (in one of our TWO locations) and rest easy in the final days of the season. Find a moment to breathe it all in, and love it all out.

Thank you for spending part of your summer with us. We loved every minute of it.

The Brain Amazes Me

Warning: You may get a flashback to 9th grade biology reading this blog post, and you may feel compelled to flirt with the cute kid sitting next to you.  Or, you may find yourself with an uncontrollable urge to sink lower into your seat to avoid the teacher’s gaze.  But hang in there, there will be no test or grade afterwards.  It’s just something to think about when you’re in class this week.

The corpus callosum is the part of our brain that facilitates communication between the right and left hemispheres of our brains.  The bigger the corpus callosum is, the better the coordination between our right and left sides of our bodies.  Research shows us that the absence of a corpus callosum can be problematic, leading to difficulties with vision, hearing, sleep, attention span, just to name a few.

When I was younger, I learned that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa.  We now know that the division between the hemispheres is not so simple.  Both sides of the brain are active whenever we do something, even though each side has a specialty.

I learned the other day that left-handed people continually confront tasks that demand they use their non-dominant hand (Berger, K. (2014)  Invitation to the Life Span. New York City, New York: Worth. [180]).  For instance, they shake hands with their right hand, but eat with their left.  Or, they figure out how to use right-handed scissors (with their right hands) because left-handed ones are not as common in schools.  (The other day I had to use a pair of left-handed scissors, though I worked them with my right hand!  Holy Cow!  Everything felt completely upside down!)

It may be this back-and-forth that causes left-handed people to have bigger corpus callosa than us righties.  And, there is some evidence to suggest that people who are left-handed may have strengths in creativity and an ability to access both hemispheres of the brain.  Judy Garland, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, Michelangelo, Carol Burnett and Jim Henderson were all lefties.

In class, your child may reach for an instrument with her right hand, or her left.  Of course, in Kindermusik class we would encourage a child to do what comes naturally in that regard.  However, we also work on activities that develop coordination between the hemispheres—actions that require both sides of the body (running, skipping, even gentle baby massage in the infant class).  It’s one more way that we are helping in the development of the whole of your child.

Nature and Nurture and Kindermusik

Last weekend, as my husband and I were in Vegas celebrating an anniversary, I went to see Bodies. . . .the Exhibition, where I got to see the preserved remains of actual bodies.  Although my husband got queasy and exited quickly, I found the exhibition to be remarkable—I left in complete amazement at how the body’s systems work together to allow me to do even the most simple of tasks.  Fun fact:  we actually shrink during the course of the day and when we go to sleep, we stretch out again.

Amazingly, however, it isn’t just our muscles that work in such harmony with our bones.  The whole of our development results from a complex interaction between our genes and our environment.  I’ve learned this week of a study that was conducted in the state of Georgia several years ago.  A group of researchers wanted to know if they could influence the propensity of a child’s risky behaviors as they move through adolescence—including, for instance, their use of alcohol or marijuana.  The 11-year-old African-American boys who were not in the control group attended seven seminars with their families, each with the intent to discuss communication strategies, parental and other familial relationships, cultural and racial pride, and discipline.  After five years, it seemed that the seminars had had no effect—the researchers found no remarkable difference between the boys who had attended the seminars and those who hadn’t.

Nevertheless, with advancements in genetics, the researchers then tested each boy for a particular gene (5-HTTLPR, which is connected to the body’s level of serotonin, or the chemical responsible for our feelings of contentment).  It was then they noticed a huge difference between the two groups of boys.  If the boys had the long version of the gene, it didn’t matter whether they had attended the seminars or not—they had experimented with drugs, alcohol and sex at similar rates.  However, for the boys who had the short version of the gene (those who were genetically more inclined to be at-risk), attending the seminars proved to make a substantial difference, as they showed a substantial decrease in rates of risky behaviors.  In other words, despite their nature, the boys who received a different type of nurture took a less risky path in life.

Epigenetic is the term scientists use to refer to the effects of the environment on our genes.  (Since they were just barely starting to map the human genome when I was learning about Mendel in high school, much of what I’ve learned this week has been revelatory.)  While it has been obvious to me that nature and nurture work together to shape our development, I’ve been fascinated to learn that, in fact, they don’t just work in tandem.  Rather, the relationship between our genes and our environment is much more dynamic than I realized.

One of the reasons I love sign language for babies is that through the process of giving little ones a way to communicate to their caregivers they can be the agents of change to shape their environment, which will in turn, influence their future growth.  Instead of having to cry, or, as was the case with my son who was language delayed, go through myriad movements and gestures to get what they need (which are often met with frustration from their caregiver), kids are able to simply ask.  Consequently, in addition to getting their needs met (a tremendous thing by itself), instead of being met with frustration and anger, they get praise.  Now they have changed their nurturing environment.  Of course, just because I learned to sign with my toddler didn’t mean I was a perfect parent; but, it generally allowed me to be calmer and more responsive—a setting much more conducive to additional, positive brain development.

For my family, I have found that Kindermusik, in general, continues to shape our home life.  Attending with my preschooler once a week, I’m setting aside time to connect with her (I love being able to look into her eyes when Ms. Carol asks us).  Reading books, dancing or listening to music together, gives both of us a meaningful way of interacting with each other.

We all come to Kindermusik class with differing natures.  I love how Kindermusik nurtures the nurturing part of our lives, as well.

The Sense of Kindermusik

Once upon a time (because that’s how all good stories start), nine years ago, I was visiting my in-laws in Seattle.  My sister-in-law was, at the time, getting a license to teach Kindermusik.  She told me that one of the hallmarks of a Kindermusik class was how kids learned musical concepts through using their bodies—so, for example, kids would learn the difference in pitch by crouching low for low sounds and stretching high for high sounds.  Everything I had learned in my formal training to be a secondary educator led me to recognize immediately the sound pedagogy of what she was sharing.  Age appropriate?  Check.  High interest?  Check.  Incorporating a variety of learning modalities (in this case, aural and kinesthetic)?  Check.  I was sold.

However, a quick search revealed that there was no Kindermusik program within 50 miles of where we were living at the time and I decided that if my kids were going to benefit from the program, I’d have to be their instructor.  My Kindermusik career was born.

Flash forward nine years (even though few fairy tales ever share with us “the rest of the story”), and I realize that, yes, what my sister-in-law said was true.  There’s nothing like climbing up the ladder, climbing to the tip top and sliiiiddding down (especially when accompanied by a slide whistle) to help kids understand musical concepts.  I love that Kindermusik uses this approach to teach musical concepts.

But I’ve also learned that kids in a Kindermusik class learn more than just musical modalities.  Take, for instance, the concept that Ms. Carol was teaching in the preschool class this week: smooth and bumpy.  Of course, this is a great way to teach staccato and legato (because where would we be without great staccato songs, or amazing legato songs?).  But “smooth” and “bumpy” are themselves important concepts for preschoolers to learn.

When most of us are born, we have the capacity to learn about textures, but we haven’t yet developed the ability to distinguish between them.  This is why so many children’s books or toys have textures built into them.  It’s a way that we can wire kids’ brains for effective learning.  Nevertheless, if you ever question the role that processing different textures has our lives, you need only ask a parent or an instructor of a child who lacks this capacity.  People with sensory processing disorder will probably tell you how difficult it can be to manage such a thing.

Feeling the textures in a book (or even talking about the textures of the animals in the “Animals A-Dancing” unit that we’re doing) can give kids a kinesthetic sense of texture.  Nevertheless, tossing the parachute up and down, making it go slow and smooth or rough and bumpy, can also help kids develop a sense of texture—but this time, it’s through a visual cue.  And then there’s the sense of hearing—what does a smooth song sound like?  A bumpy song?

As children get older and can begin to process abstract concepts, we can look at “smooth” and “bumpy” in terms of metaphors.  If you’re anything like me, sometimes getting dinner on the table can be a fairly “bumpy ride.”  Or, maybe it’s “smooth sailing” from here on out?  Have you ever stopped even notice that a smoothie shouldn’t still have chunks of fruit in it?  No bumpy smoothies!  The definitions of those words become so ingrained in our brain’s make-up, we sometimes don’t even notice how they form the basis for so many other phrases.

So, yes, our kids are learning musical concepts in Kindermusik, and this helps them foster a lifelong love of music.  But that’s only because music is such a great way for our kids to develop into whole people.  And that, in the end, is what Kindermusik is all about.

A Time to Dance

Yes, it was a couple of weeks ago, but we just passed the autumnal equinox, and the lesson that I learned about it as a metaphor for my life still lingers on my mind.  So pretend that it didn’t snow this week and hearken back to those 2 weeks of September when it still felt like fall.

There are two times of the year when the day and the night are in balance.  From the vernal equinox, the daylight increases and we remember birth and renewal.  I start looking for the bulbs to sprout.  They are by far my favorite types of flowers, because when I plant them in the fall, I do so with hope for the spring.  Then, just when I begin to believe that spring, in some great anomaly of nature, will never come, up pop the crocii.

crocus image

From the autumnal equinox, we experience more night, and we enjoy and give thanks for the harvest season.  We slow down (well, except for when we’re knee-deep in parenting, then it seems like approaching the holiday season requires a certain speeding up).  The first day that we get lots of snow I always have mixed emotions—frustration that I haven’t yet completed all the yard projects I planned, and relief that there’s little I can do, anyway.  I will just have to wait until spring.

The metaphor of changing seasons is nothing new.  I’m beginning to sound like The Byrds.

However, for the first time this year I thought about the equinox in terms of the balance I’m striving for in my life.  For two magical days, the day and the night are exactly the same.  However, a day of equinox doesn’t come around very often.  In fact, 363 other days of the year, things are not in balance. It’s a worthy goal, but sometimes it requires the very act of absolute imbalance to help us come back into equilibrium.  In fact, if everything were always perfectly balanced, we would miss the beauty of the solstice.

With three kids, I find myself continually washing the kitchen floor.  Or, rather, continually sticking to the kitchen floor despite the number of times it gets washed.  I’m learning the electric guitar.  I’m trying to spend one-on-one time with each child and I’m trying to nurture my marriage.  I’m going back to school and I’m trying to carve out time to volunteer.  I have Halloween costumes to get ready and I have scones to prep for Trick-or-Treaters.  And a storage room to clean.  So many roles, so many places to spend my time.

Pema Chödrön teaches us, though, that with all the chaos swirling around, with trying to keep everything in balance, there is hope.  It comes in embracing the moments as they come (and it certainly requires practice!).  In her book The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World, she relates the following:

“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

May you find a big, juicy strawberry today and enjoy!