Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Washing the Dishes

I didn't get a photo of it, but today Blaine, Isaac, Clayton, and I washed some cups and plates and trays. Then, using shaving cream, we gave the tables a good scrubbing. Room 2 smelled like a barber shop and shone like a Sees Candy store by the time we were done.

Chores like these can be the occasion of great joy and satisfaction. As we worked I was reminded of a passage I read recently for my class on Voluntary Simplicity.

It is an excerpt from Present Moment, Wonderful Moment by Thich Nhat Hahn, 1990:

"To my mind, the idea that doing the dishes is unpleasant can occur to us only when not doing them. Once we are standing in front of the sink with our sleeves rolled up and our hands in warm water, it is really not bad at all. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to go and have dessert, the time will be unpleasant, not worth living. That would be a pity, for every second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles.

Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane. It may take a bit longer to do the dishes, but we can live fully, happily, in every moment. Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end—that is, not only do we do the dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes and live fully each moment while washing them.

If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert and a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of doing these things joyfully. With the cup in my hands, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and the flavor of the tea, together with he pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.

No Homework tonight

You may be wondering... where is tonight's homework?

Answer: sitting on the teacher's desk, awaiting copying.

It will go home tomorrow, May 1.

I enjoyed reading about the extra chores that the kindergarteners did around the house for yesterday's homework. Tonight, you could do another of those and write a short report to share if you want some "homework" to do.

Monday, April 28, 2008


We live in the middle of a vast economic empire that takes advantage of meagerly paid overseas labor. Since the world's economies has become interconnected globally, it makes sense that kindergarten should teach about the globe. Global literacy is more important to teach than computer literacy; the latter happens automatically thanks to games.

Our recent study of the globe has made the kindergarteners interested in reading labels. They look at the labels of their clothing and they find words like "Honduras," "Vietnam," "El Salvador," "Mexico," "Guatemala," and "Dominican Republic." They want to know where to find these places on the map.

I'm glad to show them.

Of all labels, probably China is the most common—for shoes for sure. Just about every kindergarten shoe I've seen carries those three magic words: MADE IN CHINA. (What would we do if China suddenly stopped sending shoes to us? Send kids to school barefoot?) A homework assignment almost impossible to complete: bring in a kid's sneaker made in the USA.

These days, it's easy to find things made in China. Fact is, it's getting more and more difficult to find anything manufactured exclusively here in the United States. My cousin, Dan Gurney, makes All American Race cars. A lot of military hardware is made domestically. Ford Trucks, I think, some of them. Chrysler is owned by Mercedes Benz, isn't it?

In getting a photo for tonight's homework, I leaned the paper against something "made" right here in Sebastopol, California: my cat, Frank.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pictures from the Apple Blossom Parade

My wife and I rode our bikes in the Apple Blossom Parade and saw some old friends. We got a chance to take photos of some of the Dunham folks there:

Waiting for the parade to begin, I ran into fire fighter Joe Petersen,
a member of my first kindergarten class in 1981. For as long as I can

remember Joe wanted to grow up to be a fire fighter, like his dad.
He did.

Under the pink visor is Elisabeth, now in first grade.
She grew up around the corner from me.
Elisabeth's grandfather taught first grade for both of my children.
Inspecting her elbow is Elisabeth's little sister Charlotte, a future kindergartener.

Kellie and Christie, former kindergarten students of mine, now all grown up.
They're cousins of Joe Petersen the firefighter.

This is the Sebastopol World Friends entry.
With banner are Mollie, Heather, Chelsea.
On the truck behind are Kate
and moms Joan and Brenda.
My whole family visited Japan one at a time as part of this program.

Fifth grader Shane and first grader Trevor Seibold came, too.

Towards Summer

Seven days ago
A month since Spring equinox
Arctic air swept in.

Scott's farm newsletter
Told of frost-nipped squash the day
Before yesterday.

Summer weather crashed
Our Apple Blossom Festival
Straw hats, halter tops
And this kindergarten year
Starts to wiggle like a tooth.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Apple Blossom Parade

Say hello if you come to the Apple Blossom Parade in Sebastopol tomorrow morning. It's our town's big party put on by the Chamber of Commerce.

The parade begins at 10:00 Saturday morning. I'll be in it perhaps as many as three times: once for sure with the Mayor and City Council (we'll be on bicycles, we are a Green town); again with Car Lite, a group that promotes pedestrian and bicycle safety; and once more with our sister-city program, Sebastopol World Friends.

Yes, it's a long parade.

Bring sunblock. It's gonna be nice.

Look for me on this bike:

The Important Book: Kaden

Here is Kaden's page in our Important Book:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday's Homework -- Sudoku

Here' tonight's homework. Enjoy! There will be a copy of this in your kid's cubby.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Important Book — Isaac

Here is Isaac's page in the Important Book.

Click in for a closer look:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

Kindergarten students are naturally interested in the whole of the earth. Tonight's homework is an outline atlas. In addition to the assignment on that page, ask your child if they can show you where the Panama Canal is and tell you why it was made. Ditto for the Suez Canal. They also might be able to point out the Himalayas, Madagascar, Greenland, the United Kingdom, and many other places.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Magic Circus

The Magic Circus came to Dunham School this morning to do a magic show with some scientific content. The kindergarten class got to sit right up front to see magic tricks and learn a little about illusions, gravity, and elements.

You can visit their website at

Our fifth grade buddies were on their way home from an overnight stay on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, so we visited the creek to finish off the week.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Friday--No Centers--Wizard Assembly

Parent volunteers, tomorrow we will have an all-school assembly right after PE. There will be no table time activities tomorrow.

The Important Book: Henry

Here is Henry's page in the Important Book. Today was Henry's day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Outdoor Kindergarten

Monday's Wall Street Journal had a story about kindergartens in Germany (where kindergartens were first invented) that use the outdoors as a classroom.

Boy, it sounds a lot better than filling out worksheets at a desk.

Read all about them here:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Important Book: Eric

Here's Eric's page in the Important Book:

Editor's Note: Eric's story is really quite heroic, just like it says there if you click in to read. Also noteworthy: Eric's dad was once in kindergartener in Mr. Gurney's room back when.

Class Photo Wednesday

Tomorrow, Wednesday April 16, the class will have its group photo taken.

It's a good day to dress in "common school dress" garb, you know, something with the school logo on it.

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hard Work, Success

Readers of my blog who've clicked over to Gurney Journey will quickly see evidence of the connection between hard work and success. It's hard for me to imagine someone working more energetically in the art world.

Runs in the family, I guess.

Shortly after finishing my post about praising effort, I opened an email that had been waiting in my box. It was from my daughter in medical school. She wrote about the disappointment she feels in next year's rotation through the medical specialties. Twice in this one email she mentions how she'll handle the extra challenge of her difficult schedule. Here's an edited version with emphasis added by me:

Hi Mom and Dad,

"I had wanted to have surgery before OB, in order to be better prepared. But, I did have a lot of OR experience last summer; that, plus a good attitude and lots of hard work ought to get me through.

"What I'm most worried about is...getting all the important info way at the end. Again, I guess hard work (and studying when I get home at night) will be the key.

Cultivating Happiness: Equanimity

In previous posts on cultivating happiness we've looked at Attention, Relationships, Loving Kindness, Compassion, and Sympathetic Joy. In this, the last post in the series on cultivating happiness, we’ll look at Equanimity.

Identifying Equanimity

Like Loving Kindness, Compassion, and Sympathetic Joy, Equanimity is an ordinary state of mind that we all enjoy from time to time. In earlier posts we’ve illustrated sublime states using parental feelings: Loving Kindness is a feeling that arises for a much-wanted first child; Compassion arises when your toddler skins a knee; Sympathetic Joy comes when your fifth grader crosses home plate to win a baseball game. Equanimity is typically a feeling we parents must wait for: It comes when our kids grow up, finish schooling, get married, settle down and begin to take over for us. (I’m not quite there yet.)

Luckily we don’t have to wait until we’re grandparents. We can experience Equanimity earlier in life and learn to cultivate it. The best place to start is to get a sense of what it feels like. And what does it feel like? Peace and serenity. A peaceful heart and serene mind.

A Bob Marley song I sing in kindergarten from time to time cultivates equanimity. It’s called “Three Little Birds.” Part of its refrain goes like this:

“Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing,
Cause every little thing’s gonna be alright.”

It appears also in Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer:

“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

The serenity he's talking about here is equanimity.

Near and Far Enemy

Equanimity’s near enemy is apathy. Equanimity is not apathy. Apathy’s quite different. It feels on the surface like simple indifference. "I don't care," says the voice of apathy. Dig deeper and apathy seems to hold stealthy ill will towards ill will. Stealthy because it wants us to ignore the ill will we're feeling. Ignoring ill will doesn't work, though. Ironically, suppressing or ignoring ill will strengthens it.

Equanimity’s far enemy is resentment.

Cultivating Equanimity

We can invite more happiness into our lives by cultivating Equanimity.

To water the seeds of Equanimity repeat these phrases in the morning to cultivate the intention to be happier:

“May my heart be peaceful, may my mind be serene.”

My Spouse
“May my spouse’s heart be peaceful, may her (or his) mind be serene.”

My Children
“May my children’s hearts be peaceful, may their minds be serene.”

My Teachers
“May my teachers’ hearts be peaceful, may their minds be serene.”

My Parents (They don't have to be alive.)
“May my parents’ hearts be peaceful, may their minds be serene.”

My Brothers and Sisters (adapt as appropriate)
“May my brothers’ and sisters’ hearts be peaceful, may their minds be serene.”

Other Relatives
“May all my relations’ hearts be peaceful, may their minds be serene.”

Other People
Use these same phrases and fill in the names of friends, neutral people, and difficult people.

Finish with all beings:

"May all beings everywhere dwell forever in the limitless realm of the ever-present peaceful heart and serene mind."

Stabilizing Sympathetic Joy

By repeating these phrases in the morning, we invite them into our hearts as welcome guests. Once close at hand, these feelings have a greater chance of arising as we go through our day. Instead of feeling apathetic (Equanimity’s near enemy) we recognize opportunities to connect with the world just as it is, without judging or rejecting it.

We may become aware that happiness increases as we accept the world in exactly the way it appears. We may see our understandable desire to “Save the Earth” or “Change the Planet” can actually make us quite miserable and render us incapable of doing anything of the sort.

When we accept things as they are—no easy task for me—we can begin to see things we can do to make the world a better place. We start with simple things, those random acts of beauty and those senseless acts of kindness suggested by the bumper sticker on the car just ahead. We yield at the intersections. With a smile. We pick up the litter across the street. We buy two lemonades from the kid on the corner.

With all this practice, we might feel able to take on other challenges: volunteering in your kid’s classroom; working at a homeless shelter or hospice; hosting an exchange student; taking a foster child; adopting an orphan. Our world widens. We become, as Gandhi suggested, the change we wish to see in the world. And that feels good.

(A personal note on the news media: There is nothing more challenging to my equanimity than the news media, all of it: public radio, newspapers, magazines, the Internet. Mercifully, I don’t have a problem with Fox News, CNN, or any of their friends since I don’t have a TV set. Very often I am discouraged by what I read or see in the news. My equanimity goes out the window. I subject myself to this angst because I feel it is my duty as a citizen to stay informed. I sometimes take short “vacations” from the news by shutting it off altogether or by substituting a jazz CD for the news on the way to work. This is my area of particular challenge. Maybe someone out there can suggest a stratagem for dealing with my problem.)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Poisonous Praise: You're Smart

Researchers at Columbia University recently did a survey indicating that 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they think they’re smart. If you ask parents why they tell their kids that they’re smart, they’ll say it’s to reassure them to believe in themselves and to have the confidence to tackle the challenges that life has in store for them.

Sadly, praising kids for their intelligence does nothing of the kind; it has been shown to have the opposite effect.

For more than ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck has studied the effects of praise on fifth graders in the New York Public Schools. She found that kids who are praised for being smart avoid challenges. Why? As she writes, “When we praise children for their intelligence we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.”

Praise effort

If you’re going to praise your child, praise effort. Dweck found that students praised for trying—for working hard—do just that: they work hard. Students praised for being smart will avoid challenges that might make them look dumb; students praised for working hard will welcome challenges. They become persistent when faced with obstacles.

“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control and provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

Dweck’s work has been studied by other scholars. Researchers at Stanford University and Reed College have reviewed over 150 studies done on the effects of praise. Their analysis of the data confirm that students who receive praise are more risk-averse and more dependent on teachers. Students who receive praise have “shorter task persistence, more eye-checking with the teacher, and inflected speech such that answers have the intonation of questions.”

So what to do?

Kick the habit of telling your kid (or student) that he or she is smart. Instead encourage your child (or student) to see the connection between the effort they’ve made and the results they’ve achieved.

Encourage your kindergartener to think of his or her brain as a muscle. The more it’s used the stronger it gets.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Aloha, Mrs. Frech

Mrs. Frech will be on vacation in Hawaii starting today.

May she and her family be safe, healthy, and happy throughout their time together. We will miss her attention to the students and to the program.

Mrs. O'Malley and Mrs. Nommsen will fill in while she's away, plus extra help from the regular and reliable parent volunteers. We'll muddle through until her return on April 28.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Cultivating Gratitude

I get up early each morning—at 5:00 AM usually—so that I have time to contemplate some passages to uplift my spirits and get ready for the day.

I have a collection of many beautiful and inspiring texts. This is one of them and it helps me feel grateful to all our ancestors. It goes like this:

All our knowledge is bequeathed knowledge.
The dead have left us record of all they were able to learn about themselves and the world,
About the laws of death and life,
About things to be acquired and things to be avoided
About ways of making existence less painful than nature willed it
About right and wrong and sorrow and happiness
About the error of selfishness, the wisdom of kindness, the obligation of sacrifice.

They left us information of everything they could find out concerning climates and seasons and place
The sun and moon and stars
The motions and the composition of the universe.

They bequeathed us also their delusions which long served the good purpose of saving us from falling into greater ones.
They left us the story of their errors and efforts, their triumphs and failures
Their pains and joys, their loves and hates
For warning or example.
The expected our sympathy
Because they toiled with the kindest wishes and hopes for us
And because they made our world.
They cleared the land
They extirpated monsters
They tamed and taught the animals most useful to us.
They domesticated likewise the useful trees and plants
And they discovered the places and powers of the metals.
Later they created all that we call civilization
Trusting us to correct such mistakes as they could not help making.
The sum of their toil is incalculable
And all that they have given us ought surely to be very sacred
Very precious
If only by reason of the infinite pain and thought which it cost.

And so I pause and take this moment to offer my gratitude and thanks to the dead, to those who have passed on. May you all be at peace.

(I invite my readers Dharmajim? to make a comment about the source of this passage. He told me where this came from, but I don't trust my memory of what he told me.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Another Thought about that Fisherman

Something that's been bugging me about the Mexican Fisherman story: no mention is made of all the tuna that would be pulled out of the sea to make the fisherman a billionaire.

Getting rich the American way lays waste to the earth, the sea, and sky.

I wish the Mexican had scolded the MBA for his failure to see that following his advice would lay waste to Mother Earth.

How sad to lay waste to the earth in pursuit of bits of green paper and cards of plastic making a fat wallet.

As Gandhi said, "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed."

Thanks, everyone, for chiming in. I appreciate it when you take a moment to comment.

The Important Book: David

David's page in the Important Book:

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Mexican Fisherman

An American businessman on vacation stood at the pier of a small fishing village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat was a large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on his catch and asked him how long it took to catch it. The fisherman replied, "Not long, señor, only a little while."

The American then asked, "Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" The Mexican said that the one fish was enough to support his family's modest needs. The American then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The Mexican fisherman replied, I sleep till the middle of the morning, fish till noon, take a siesta with my wife, Maria. Then I play with my children in the afternoon. After dinner, I stroll into the village where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and rewarding life, señor."

The American scoffed, "I am a Columbia MBA and I want to help you. Listen to what I have to tell you. Spend more time fishing and catch more fish. With the extra money you make you can buy your family more stuff. You will be able to afford a bigger boat and with it you'll make enough to buy more boats. Eventually you'll have a whole fleet. Instead of selling your fish to the middleman you can sell directly to the processor, and with the extra profits you can open your own cannery. With this money you could control the catch, the processing, the distribution. You could move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and finally to New York City where you can run your fishing empire.

The fisherman asked, "But señor, how long will all this take?"

"Twenty years, maybe," the American replied. "You'll be a wealthy man."

"But what then, señor?"

The American stifled a laugh and said, "That's the whole point. When the time is right, you can announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become extremely wealthy, a billionaire."

"A billionaire? Then what?"

Triumphantly, the American replied, "With a billion you can safely retire. You could afford to move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep till mid morning, fish a little, have a siesta, play with your grandkids, and stroll into the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos."

–Author unknown

Lovin' Kindergarten

The centers going on now include building with blocks,

making waffles from scratch with a waffle iron,

building three-dimensional geometric forms with marshmallows and toothpicks,

and, as described in a previous post, sinking pieces of wood with paper clips.

Repeating the same activity with new groups gives the teacher and opportunity to refine questions and processes towards a better result. You can see this group had a better grasp of the difference between pine and plywood's ability to float paper clips. We even recorded the results of our investigation.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cultivating Happiness: Sympathetic Joy

Part V of VI

In previous posts on cultivating happiness we've looked at Attention, Relationships, Loving Kindness and Compassion. This week we'll consider Sympathetic Joy.

Loving Kindness, Compassion, and Sympathetic Joy are the first three dimensions of the four "Divine Abodes.” Knowing about them can help us notice them when they arise and then begin to cultivate them so that they appear more frequently in our lives. (We'll look at the fourth, Equanimity, in the final post of this series.)

Identifying Sympathetic Joy

Of all the Divine Abodes, Sympathetic Joy is (for me at least) the easiest to identify: it’s when you happy because of someone else’s good fortune.

Like Loving Kindness and Compassion, Sympathetic Joy is not a rarefied feeling reserved for spiritually advanced. We all feel it. Just as parents may feel Loving Kindness for an unborn baby and Compassion when their toddler stumbles and gets hurt, parents feel a thrill of joy run through their bodies when their kid catches a fly ball in center field or learns to ride a two wheeler. People who aren’t parents feel it when their favorite candidate wins an election or their favorite sports team wins a championship.

Kindergarten teachers are particularly likely to be awash in Sympathetic Joy. I feel it many times each day as students proudly show me a wiggly tooth. A week or so later I get to join their thrill at having lost that tooth. This is followed soon after with more happiness: the emergence of the first adult teeth.

I feel a rush of pleasure when a child learns to ride on two wheels. Every day I see children advance along the path to reading, math and other subjects. I felt it today when Olivia proudly pointed to China on the classroom world map.

Sympathetic Joy’s near enemy is boredom/numbness. When we feel that someone else’s joy has nothing to do with us, we’re cutting ourselves out of a lot of happiness.

Sympathetic Joy’s far enemy is envy or jealousy. We feel jealousy when someone gets happiness that we wish were ours to enjoy instead. Jealousy is much more likely to arise in peer relationships: it can be hard to be glad for your competition’s triumphs.

It is much easier to get a thrill out of a child’s awards and achievements than it is to get a thrill out of a colleague’s good fortune. This is why, I believe, that siblings who are close in age often have more difficulties getting along as compared to siblings separated by more years.

All of us know how crummy envy and jealousy feel, so it’s a good idea to know that it’s at least conceivable to transform that feeling into its positive correlate: Sympathetic Joy.

Cultivating Sympathetic Joy

Now that we know what it is we can invite more happiness into our lives by cultivating Sympathetic Joy.

To water the seeds of Sympathetic Joy in my heart. I repeat these phrases in the morning to cultivate the intention to be happier:

"May good fortune fill all the days of my life."

My Spouse
"May good fortune fill all the days of my spouse’s life."

My children
"May good fortune fill all the days of all my children’s lives."

My Teacher
"May good fortune fill all the days of Mr. Wilson’s life."
(insert the name of your favorite teacher here)

My Parents (They don't have to be alive.)
"May good fortune fill all the days my parents’ lives."

My Siblings
"May good fortune fill all the days of my brothers’ and sisters’ lives."

Other Relatives
"May good fortune fill all the days of all my grandparents’ lives."

Other People
I use these same phrases and fill in the names of friends, neutral people, and difficult people.

I finish with all beings:

"May good fortune fill all the days of all beings everywhere."

Stabilizing Sympathetic Joy

By repeating these phrases in the morning, we invite them into our hearts as welcome guests. Once close at hand, these feelings have a greater chance of arising when we come into proximity to another person’s good fortune. Instead of going numb (Sympathetic Joy’s near enemy) we recognize these opportunities to feel happiness instead.

By becoming aware that happiness increases as we share it, we quite naturally begin to see that other people’s happiness can be the occasion for our own happiness, too. With practice, we begin to appreciate how solid and genuine shared happiness turns out to be. We discover that Sympathetic Joy compares favorably to ordinary personal happiness. It’s less complicated, more widespread, and lighter of heart.

Similarly, by recognizing jealousy as Sympathetic Joy’s far enemy, we can learn to see that misbegotten emotion for what it is and let it die its own death by failing to water it with our thinking. With practice, we learn to find ways to transform jealousy into Sympathetic Joy, motivated by the fact that Joy feels so much better than jealousy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sinking Wood

Science is fun when you get your hands involved.

FOSS science activities engage the child's hands and mind. They use simple materials in sophisticated ways.

This week at my center the students are experimenting to see how many jumbo paper clips a small block of wood can float before it sinks. This is one of more than a dozen investigations into the properties of wood in our FOSS science unit.

Students work with two blocks of wood that are the same size, one made of pine and the other made of plywood. Pine floats more paper clips than plywood—it's less dense—but I've noticed that most children do not seem too interested in that, the main point of the lesson.

They are far more caught up in the mechanics of tucking the paper clips under the rubber band that it provided to attach the paper clips to the wood. Once they get the hang of that, many children want to put a whole lot of paper clips on to make the wood sink quickly to the bottom. My job is slowing them down to find the point at which the wood barely floats its paper clip load so that with the addition of just one more clip it sinks. We count the number of clips it takes to sink the wood.