Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Peace of Wild Things

Much Northern California has been affected by wildfires. For most of this past week the air has been thick with a choking smoke. It's made my wife sick. The fires and smoke bring to mind unsettling worries about global warming.

To find solace and fresher air I've been taking walks along the Sonoma County coast.

Today's walk was with a poet, Jonah Raskin. He talked about wild things.This brought to mind one of my very favorite poems by Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things. This poem expresses how walks outdoors work for me.

My hiking companion, Ted.

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Stroke of Insight

A kindergarten teacher on summer vacation has more time (and energy) to read than he does during the school year. Funny how 27 kids can make me want to collapse at the end of the day! In April and May I jot down a list of books to read during the long days of summer when it’s possible to find an hour or two to spend with a book.

Books about how human beings work are of particular interest to me. (Pure fiction, while as entertaining to me as the next person, leaves a lingering taste of guilty pleasure. I know that's not fair: a good novel can be as true and as informative about the human spirit as nonfiction.) But, as I was saying, as a teacher of young children I want to learn how the brain/heart/mind works. My STROKE of INSIGHT, Jill Bolte Taylor’s account of her cerebral hemorrhage, seemed like a good candidate for my summer reading list. Several of you readers suggested that I would like it. You were right.

Taylor begins by telling us a little about herself before she had the stroke. We learn how she trained to become a brain scientist and a little about the work she did at Harvard University where she was employed when the stroke occurred.

In the next part of the book she succinctly explains the basics of brain anatomy so that we can follow the story she’s about to tell. (The clarity of her description of how the brain is organized is worth the price of the book.)

By Chapter 4, she begins the tale of her stroke. She is well qualified to observe and describe the stroke she had: she was a neuroanatomist, a brain scientist. She describes the morning of the stroke from the first symptom—a first sharp stab of pain behind her left eye—to later that day and near death in the Massachusetts General Hospital emergency room in fascinating detail and harrowing effect. Few books have given me such strong paradoxical urges to simultaneously (1) set it down and (2) keep reading.

She lives, obviously. And then she takes her 8-year long journey to recovery. She has to recover her life from infancy to adulthood. Along the way she discovers a new appreciation for the right brain—exactly the part of the brain that No Child Left Behind reforms are leaving behind. Taylor feels that her stroke was a gift because it has helped her live a more fully integrated life using both her left and right hemispheres. She trusts her right brain to guide her:

“Since the stroke, I steer my life almost entirely by paying attention to how people, places, and things feel to me energetically. In order to hear the intuitive wisdom of my right mind, however, I must consciously slow my left mind down so I am not simply carried along on the current of my chatty story-teller. Intuitively I don’t question why I am subconsciously attracted to some people and situations, and yet repelled by others. I simply listen to my body and implicitly trust my instincts.”

Taylor tells how a well-meaning people sometimes inadvertently made matters worse for her. In the Appendix, Taylor lists 40 things caregivers can do to help someone who has suffered a stroke.

If you know someone who’s suffered a stroke the list would itself be worth the price of the book.

There is a child-like quality of innocence and wonder in Taylor’s personality—a balance of left and right brain that you don’t commonly see in adults these days. She knows the primacy of love and heart wisdom and she knows the importance of staying in the moment.

If she wanted to give up brain science for another job, she’d make a fantastic kindergarten teacher.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Nephew Dan

My nephew, Dan Gurney, brother Jim's son, is a senior at Harvard University. He's got probably the best summer job imaginable: traveling to Thailand to do research for a travel guide published by Harvard.

He's keeping a blog about his travels which you can visit here:


Internet Interruptions

I've had myriad difficulties with my current internet service provider. I cannot get online at home and won't have internet service at home until July 19.

In the mean time, I'll get online only when visiting Wi-Fi cafes. I probably won't do this every day, so...

So please bear with me, and allow at least 2 to 3 days for responses and replies to e-mails and the blog.


We opened last weekend's Board Meeting for the California Kindergarten Conference by sharing a favorite poem.

I shared the one below, written by a friend of mine, Raphael Block, whom I met some years ago when he attended one of my Soundabet seminars. Raphael is a single widowed father of a daughter who's headed off to college this fall. His poem is a splendid expression of the feelings that arise when you see your children grow up and out of your house.

By the way, I've mentioned to Raphael that he might consider starting a blog as has another poet friend of mine, Jim Wilson, as a means of publishing his work. I encourage you to leave a comment about his poem if you feel the least bit moved to do so.

So, without further introduction, here's Lasagna:

By Raphael Block

Sounds of hooting laughter
spill up the path,
high pitched yelps
of delight issue
from my daughter's mouth
as he chases her
towards the house.

Chatter and banter
fill the kitchen,
overflow the rooms,
as they cook, tease, and joke,
following the recipe steps:
1. Mince onion - “How?”
“What size do they mean?”
2. Dry the spinach -
“With what?”

Resting in an easy chair,
I'm tickled to overhear
and catch sight,
reflected in a window,
a tender kiss,
love's flowering

This time around
I am but a witness,
yet my delight,
once father's mask is cast aside,
is as great as was my own
first love, and all
I can do is wish them
well on their heart's journey.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tom Hunter

Tom Hunter died June 20. Tom was a great man whose loving heart touched many many lives.

Tom was wise. He found profound truths in ordinary events. And he used ordinary language to talk about the deepest wisdom. He was a minister and a minstrel. He started KGO radio's Sunday "God Talk" program that is hosted by Bernie Ward these days.

I first met Tom at the California Kindergarten Association's annual conference. He and Bev Bos and Michael Leeman sang for us at the dinner concert. From Tom I learned a song, "I See the Moon" which I love to sing in class.

I got to know Tom much better last fall at a Bev Bos weekend workshop called Good Stuff for Kids. During the weekend and especially over a meal we shared, we learned that we have a great deal in common. We could have finished each other's sentences. At the end of the meal Tom said, "Every conference I go to I meet someone special, someone who, for me is the highlight of the event. Meeting you is that highlight for me this time." I felt honored by him. Later he gave me his book of essays, "Visits to the Heart of Education: Remembering What's Important." Tom was like that: wise, generous, funny.

Tom believed that educating the heart is more important than filling the mind.

He believed that a really good way to reach children is by singing to them and listening to them, deeply.

Tom encouraged children to invent verses to a song. I learned to do that more, thanks to Tom.

Tom touched many lives, mine, too, for the better. I will miss him.

You can read more about Tom here, Link.

There's another blog written by his wife and kids about his fatal illness. If you've got a kleenex, you can go here, Link. Their love for their dad is really evident.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Solstice

Ah, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, Summer Solstice.

To celebrate, Ted and I took the 2 kayaks out to Tomales Bay. Tomales Bay is one of the prettiest places I know of and it's a 40 minute drive from where I live. They say there are lots of sharks in it. Maybe. They haven't ever bothered me, though. And they keep the bay empty of shark-fearing human company. It's a good deal.

The tide was really low. Where Ted is standing there is usually water at low tide.

It was uncharacteristically hot and calm. We shed our life jackets halfway across the bay.

Two thumbs up. We're good to go.

We shared a snack on Indian Beach, a bagel and a banana. The bagel was local, the banana made an awfully long journey for our nourishment.

Indian Beach on the western shore, across from Marconi Cove.

I'm proudly wearing an NYU med school T-shirt, a gift from Liz. Also a new sunblocker hat and two layers of 50 SPF sunscreen.

Back home, man it was hot! I decided to get my annual summer buzz cut this afternoon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer Reading: The Heart Speaks

Summer is a good time to catch up on your reading, well, at least for schoolteachers on vacation.

I thought I'd share the reading I'm doing over the summer. The first one is here:

Heart disease took her mom’s life

Mimi Guarneri is a cardiologist who’s written a riveting book about her life’s journey towards compassionate medicine. In it, with the skills of a person who majored in English literature as an undergrad, she tells her own story.

Heart disease took her mom’s life when Guarneri was only eight years old and heart disease killed her dad, too, less than 10 years later. Yes, she connects the obvious dots–she became a heart doctor in an unconscious effort to heal her mom and dad.

But The Heart Speaks is more than a story about the author. She also relates the stories of the many patients she’s treated as a top cardiologist. Guarneri is the founder and medical director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California. (Full disclosure: Guarneri completed her training in cardiology at NYU medical school where my daughter is a med student.)

Guarneri’s journey takes us far beyond the limited view of the heart you learned in school, you know, the familiar myth that the heart is only a simple organ, basically a tough muscle, a mechanical pump at the center of the circulatory system.

Guarneri compares the heart to a complex flower in the center of our chest that is intelligent, sensitive to emotional and social nuance, and is multidimensional in a spiritual sense. Through stories of her patients, many of whom receive state-of-the-art stent and/or bypass procedures, she explores the language of the heart in chapters on stress, anger, depression, grief, and, yes, angelic revelation.

She relates, for example, the remarkable recovery of a church organist, Milly, who suffered severe atrial fibrillation that doctors couldn’t cure. Milly visited a faith healer and her condition improved so dramatically that Guarneri hardly recognized Milly a week later. She relates other stories of heart transplant recipients whose musical and gustatory preferences change to resemble those of the heart donors.

In the final section of the book she explores the heart in a larger context, as a little brain, the intuitive intelligence that connects us to all other life and to the universe itself.

I read the The Heart Speaks, my first summer reading, in one sitting—with just a break for lunch—and recommend it to anyone interested the human organism works.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back from Santa Barbara

We're back from a short vacation to pick up our son, Ted, after his graduation (double major, honors, in 3 years) from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Ted graduated on Sunday morning, but we arrived a day early to take part in his cousin Kevin's graduation ceremonies.

UCSB has so many graduates that they split the class up into related majors to keep the ceremonies manageable. Kevin graduated in computer sciences.

Saturday, right after Kevin's ceremony.
From left, Kevin's dad, Kevin, his mom (my sister), and Kevin's brother, John.


Ted's processional on Sunday morning.

The family gathers after Ted's graduation.

One of the highlights of the weekend for me was a reception held by the black studies department for its graduates and their immediate family. The room was packed. Lunch was served. Awards were given.

Ted won the Paul Robeson Award for outstanding service and scholarship. Professor Christopher McAuley presented Ted's award. Professor McAuley's introduction brought tears running down my cheeks.

He accurately described Ted as a generous and laconic person whose few words are well worth listening to.

Ted gave his mantle to Professor McAuley who wrote a letter of recommendation in support of Ted's Peace Corps application.

After the reception we got sandwiches from the Isla Vista Food Co-op. We ventured on to the bluff to eat. Then we took a walk around campus. It is bordered on the south by the Pacific Ocean.

Ted's sister, Liz and her fiancee, Andrew flew in from New York.

Monday morning move out.
Ted left something from the
Tao Te Ching on the cupboards for his roommates:

Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no talking.
The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
Creating, yet not possessing,
Working, yet not taking credit.
Work is done, then forgotten.
Therefore it lasts forever.

He left, also, his custom cruiser, for his buddies in the Kroozer Skid Nation.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Important Book: Abby

Here is Abby's page in the Important Book. To see the pictures and read the words, click on the photo:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Important Book: Will

Here is Will's page in the Important Book. Click on the photo to enlarge it enough to see the pictures and read the words.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Important Book: Vivian

This is Vivian's page in the Important Book. Click in for a closer view:

Cum Folders

The final day of the school year isn't really the end-of-the-year carnival.

It's the day after that when we return to school to fill out cumulative folders where we duly note days of attendance and absence and inventory supplies that have been used up this year and need to be ordered for the next. It's a quiet day, no kids around, and it unfolds slowly for me.

I'm sure it's easy to imagine that teachers are elated with the arrival of summer. There's a sense of relief, that's true. Summer offers a chance to catch the breath and to reflect on the year just finished.

I cannot speak for other teachers, but along with the welcome feelings of relief come feelings of sadness with the departure of another class as they move on to first grade. Happy memories made this year begin to slip inexorably into the past.

I turn my attention to deferred projects around the house and to think about books to read.

This online newsletter will go on sporadically over the summer. I still have several pages of the Important Book to post. And I'll be thinking about this life work of mine: teaching. And when I have a thought worth sharing, I'll put it up here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Important Book: Sierra

Here is Sierra's page in the Important Book:

Drew's Bike Ride

The Valez family were the high bidders on the bike ride with Mr. Gurney at the Pasta Feed last March.

Today we met in Sebastopol at the Plaza and rode all the way to Forestville, a distance of about 16 miles. Near the end of the ride we paused by a trail marker to pose for photos:

Drew and his dad, Jon.

Drew did really well. He set a personal record for distance ridden in one day. After we had some ice cream at Screamin' Mimi's Ice Cream shop.

Last Day of School

Friday was the final day of the 2007 - 2008 school year.

We began the day by reading letters that the first grade class wrote about what to expect in grade one. Field trips, homework, watching movies, and studying were among the most noted differences. A few of the first grade scholars mentioned reading, math, writing and science, but not many. One notable difference between kindergarten and first grade is the expectation that students write multi-paragraph, coherent expository letters.

It took us almost an hour to read all the letters, so much time, indeed, that we had to get up and wiggle and move and dance a bit. Here Miguel leads a line dance to Michael Buble's Sway:

After reading all of the letters from first grade we went outside where parents had set up the carnival. I snapped a couple of photos that suggest something of the atmosphere.

Todd Sousa made amazing balloon sculptures.

There were 3 inflated jump play areas.

The McDowells made lots of cotton candy. Got all over the place.

No carnival is complete without the good old fashioned bean bag toss.


A great white slide.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Important Book: Sergio

Here is Sergio's page in the Important Book:

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Thursday and Friday


Thursday will be the last day of our usual class schedule, and even it will be different.

The fifth grade buddies will put on an end of the year party for us at 10:30.

Also, I have to do one final reading skills assessment for everyone in the class, DIBELS.

For the first time this year we'll show a movie, Charlotte's Web, to help with crowd control as I do the 1-on-1 assessments.


The PTO is putting on a special event, and end-of-the-year here-comes-summer carnival.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Rainbows All Over Your Blues

Here's a YouTube video of John Sebastian. He's one of my favorite singers from the sixties—way back when I was in high school.

I think you'll like this song, a kind of a Mr. Kindergarten song for grownups.

Click on the play button you see there down below—there, in the middle of the screen.

Back Online

For those of you who are active readers of Mr. Kindergarten, the hiatus in the postings was due to interruptions in my home internet connection.

It's back now, hopefully to stay.


I had hoped to write during the weekend about another glorious car-free weekend. My car got home from work on Friday afternoon and didn't move a muscle, er, exhale exhaust, until Monday morning when I drove back to Dunham.

Funny how when you decide to keep your car turned off (and your gasoline money in your wallet) you discover beauty just outside your door. Time slows down, too.

I took a walk on Sunday and found myself looking at this herd of Holsteins who live at the edge of town.

The Important Book: Ty

Here is Ty's page in the Important Book:

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Floor Puzzles


Hailey, Kiyana, Sierra, and Belle put this one together.

One way to evaluate any pedagogical activity is to pay attention to its social dimension.

I particularly like fl0or puzzles because they naturally promote collaboration among students.

Put a group of three or four kindergarten students to work on a 48-piece puzzle, and quite naturally they'll work together, learn from each other, and take delight in each other's successes.

Sure, much could be said about the educational value to be found in the visual discrimination of curved lines, the physical manipulation of shapes, the recognition of form and color, not to mention the often didactic content one often finds in the image of the puzzle itself.

But for me—and, I suspect—for the students, satisfying social interactions make floor puzzles worthwhile.

Trey, Henry, Daven, David, and Blaine pose after getting this one together.