Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

Today was Makayla's day. Unfortunately, I left my camera at home so there are no photos of the day... but I did take a couple of photos at home. I'll take some tomorrow as a make-up. Update: Mrs. Everson took some photos on her phone and sent them to me, so we do have some photos.

Mrs. Everson sent me this photo

That said, Makayla did the Soundabet before the whole class! That always makes my day. She brought a wonderful story called Poppyseed. She also showed me her loose teeth. Rieley showed me a tooth that he lost over the week off.

Rieley lost a tooth.

I told the class "Mathland" names for some geometric solid shapes, some of which we have common names for:


What common game piece has this shape?


Ice cream lovers knew the name of this one....


When made of bouncy material for a play thing, we know this as a ball.


We talked about how these are found in engines.

What's the name of the shape you see sitting on top of the cube here? We did not go over this one...

Anyone know its name?

I showed the class a troll house I bought in a toy store in Mendocino during the "ski week" which for my wife and me was more of a "coast week(end)." We had a good time up there.

Finally, tomorrow is the first day of March. Here's the new snack calendar:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ukulele Week #7: The Mighty Ukulele

So, I'm finishing off Ukulele Week with a movie trailer. I hope to screen this movie at school as a benefit for the PTO this spring.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

UE #60 How to Pronounce "Ukulele"

Editor's Note:
The following column was written by Ralph Shaw (The King of the Ukulele) for his email group, "The Ukulele Entertainer" and is copyrighted by him. I saw Ralph play and met him at one of his workshops in St. Helena at the Ukulele festival there last September.


Ukulele players are used to having friendly disagreements over which tuning is superior (GCEA or ADF#B), whether it is preferable to use a high or low 4th string, or even, whether a banjo-uke is a ukulele at all.

Heck, we can't even agree on how to pronounce the thing.

For most of my life the pronunciation of ukulele was never in question. It was spoken like this: Yoo-ka-lay-li :with the i sounding like the i in, well, in in. I never heard anyone pronounce it any other way. That is, until I went to California. Which, by far, sends more tourists to Hawaii than any other State.

I should mention: although I did visit Hawaii before I had my first California visit, I never noticed that Hawaiians spoke the word 'ukulele' differently to myself; this was probably because almost every word they uttered was different than in my South Yorkshire brogue.

In California I found it slightly surreal to walk into a room and see several dozen ukulele players all dressed in colorful Hawaiian shirts. Do other musical instruments inspire their own dress codes?

I wondered: what had given these people the strange and identical need to dress in such a way; Have they been brain-washed by some strange Tiki-Guru into joining a bizarre Polynesian cult? Are Hawaiian shirts and leis a secret fetish clothing that enthusiasts like wearing in group situations? Do loudly patterned fabric prints help dull people to feel more interesting? The answer to all these questions is, in most cases, No.

The people who bedeck themselves in colorful shirts just happen to have been caught up in the wondrous spirit of all that is Hawaiian (that, plus the fact that a carefully chosen flowered print instantly takes between 10 to 25 pounds off the wearer). The Aloha spirit is reflected in Hawaii's music, food, clothing, attitudes and words. Travelers can't help but bring some of these cultural keepsakes back to the mainland. Ukuleles, Leis, Macadamias and Mahalos are all part of a cultural oneness. Their presence is what keeps the visitor's Inner Island Spirit alive.

But, I have to confess, when I heard people pronouncing ukulele as 'Oo-koo-lay-lay' it bothered me.

My thinking was (note the past tense) that saying, 'Oo-koo-lay-lay', while being correct in Hawaiian, sounds somewhat pretentious when used in an English language context. It is similar to hearing an English speaker refer to the capital city of France as 'Paree' or the capital of Germany as 'Bearrr-leen'.

The English language is full of words that have been taken from, or imposed on us by, other cultures. Over time the pronunciations of these words have adapted and changed, often becoming quite different from their origins.

Conquerors are loathe to learn the language of their defeated subjects: which is why Hawaiians now speak US-English. Similarly, after the Normans defeated the army of King Harold near Hastings in 1066, French became the language of successful English-folk. It was the language spoken in English Parliament (a French word) and for 300 years French was the language of the English Legal system. That is until the great plague killed so many people that there were no longer enough French speaking judges available.

The English language was flooded with French words. Crafts people maintained their anglo-saxon job titles: Fisher, Shepherd, Weaver, Baker and so on. But the skilled artisans were known by French trade names: Plumber, Carpenter, Butcher, Mason. And, if you know an Irishman with Fitz as part of his name, then that too is French - it comes from 'fils de' meaning 'the brother of'.

We also get a myriad of words that are pronounced quite unlike their French counterpart. Take the following French words that all take the same ending: voyage, plumage, pillage, village, cage, bandage, mariage, image and visage. All of those words rhyme with 'nuage'; the French word for cloud. In English however, not only do we not pronounce those words like the French, but, with the exception of village and pillage, the words don't even rhyme with each another.

What would we think of an English speaker who insisted on saying all the above words with their original French pronunciation? I imagine it would sound a little pretentious. Or, we might wonder what obscure upbringing had caused them to develop such a mannerism.

But if that person also happened to wear a beret, carried an accordion and had a Joann SFAR comic book poking out of his pocket, perhaps then we'd say, "ah, I understand, this person is embracing French culture."

Several years ago it hit me how much of a fluid state all language is in. An erudite compiler of a British Dictionary said that the word 'ask' was now being pronounced 'aks' by so many people around the world that 'aks' has become an acceptable pronunciation. As he talked about this, in his rich Oxford tones, I was struck by how this fact didn't bother him at all. He took the organic, ever developing, nature of language quite for granted.

It seems to me that the ukulele has traveled so far and so widely that it is no longer an instrument of a single culture. To a Californian (and countless others) the ukulele speaks to them of Polynesia, particularly Hawaii. To a Brit or a Baltimorian it might be the era of Music Hall or Vaudeville to which the ukulele transports them. To a Japanese teenager it'll be something else again.

It's a wonderful thing that the ukulele has been a part of so much cultural diversity. Surely this diversity ought to be reflected in all the ways people choose to pronounce it.

'Oo-koo-lay-lay' and 'Yoo-ka-lay-li' both sound so right to me now; both are perfect ways to pronounce the name of the petit chordophone that has been instrumental in creating so much cultural togetherness.

All I ask, is please don't call it, as I have sometimes heard, a 'Yoo-kyoo-lay-lee'. That is just plain wrong!

source: Singers & the Song Gene Lees, 1987 
© Ralph Shaw 2011

His website: Ralph Shaw

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ukulele Week #5: Starting together

We've gone over how to:
  • how to carry the ukulele, 
  • how to hold it over our hearts, 
  • how to strum it with our thumb
  • how to finger a C chord
Today we'll look at starting to play—together. Playing together sounds much better than playing sort of together. The key is getting started. So you have to teach it.

The way I teach starting to play together is borrowed from our music teacher, Andrew De Veny. He's been at this business longer than I have, and I think he's got it figured out. Here's how:

Basically, we count off saying, "One, two, ready, play!" and with the word play we strum the first strum. As we say, "One, two, ready," we lightly knock our knuckles on the ukulele body above the strings.

You can see this demonstrated on the video of me and Hannah playing together on the post dated Feb 12. That video is probably worth 1,000 words, so I'll just send you over there if what I've said here isn't already clear to you.

Tomorrow, we'll listen to a guest blogger talk about how to pronounce the word, "Ukulele."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ukulele Week #4: The C chord

We've learned

  • how to carry the ukulele, 
  • how to hold it over our hearts, 
  • how to strum it with our thumb. 


What about that left hand on the fretboard?

That's the hand with that inspired the ukulele's Hawaiian name: Uku — lele. Uku means "flea" and lele means "dancing" so ukulele means "dancing flea" which is what the fingers on the fretboard looked like the Hawiian who gave this wonderful instrument its name.

To start with in kindergarten, our fingers are not going to do much dancing, not even walking. Pretty much we're just going to plant one of the fingers of the left hand (the ring finger is best) on the first string. And not just anywhere on that first string. We're going to put it on the third fret. And keep it there.

Now, for some that's easier than others. Five year olds tend to move that finger up and down the fretboard with dissonant results. So put a little piece of masking tape where you want that finger to be pressed.

On the third fret. With that finger pressed down firmly enough, the ukulele will sing a nice C chord.

One chord is all we need attempt at first. It sounds good, like a drone, all the way through a song sung in the key of C.  Songs that can be sun in rounds, like "Row Your Boat" Are You Sleeping, Brother John?" and "Down by the Station" sound really good accompanied by just one chord. So that's where to start.

Oh, and find a chair. You can stand when playing ukulele, but sitting is better to begin with.

Here's Mollie showing good technique and playing a C chord with both hands working just the way we wish:

Tomorrow: playing together.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ukulele Week #3: Strumming

After carrying the uke and holding its body up to the heart, the next thing to teach is how to strum the strings.

Assuming everyone is playing right handed, it will be the right hand that strums. The left hand fingers the fret board, and we'll get to that later. We can leave it a while because the ukulele sounds okay with all strings open. (We'll get to tuning later, but actually, it's the first thing you need to do.)

Kids really don't know how to do it. And there are, actually, many many ways to strum. For me the hardest part about playing the uke is learning to be skillful with that right hand.

But to begin all that we need is a simple downward stroke strumming across all four strings (not too hard) from the one nearest your nose to the string closest to your feet.

The thumb seems to be the easiest part of the hand to use for strumming. The fleshy thumbprinty part of the thumb is what contacts the strings.

Here's Elena, showing how.

Bigger people should strum across the strings higher up—where the neck meets the ukulele body.

For young children I've found strumming over the sound hole works okay especially if they're wearing long sleeves. The sleeves tend to muffle the strings if they strum the strings where they sound the best—farther up the neck.

Tomorrow we'll look at that left hand on the neck.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ukulele Week #2

The second thing that might surprise you when teaching ukulele to young children is that they may have no idea how to hold it.

I've seen kids lay the ukulele flat on their laps, like little steel guitars. On set them down on a nearby tabletop, as if it were a keyboard.

But the place for this soulful little chordophone that is both less and more than a guitar is held to the heart.

The second lesson in ukulele playing is to teach your students to hold out their thumbs, and, using their thumbs to show where the ukulele will be held—in front of the heart—say, "I love myself!" and then hold the ukulele's body right there.

Here, Sam shows how to do this step:

"I love myself!" (Of course you do. You MAKE music!)

Tomorrow: how to strum the strings. (Yes it needs to be taught.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ukulele Week #1

This week I am going to write a series of posts for readers interested in teaching ukulele to groups of very young children.

(Disclaimer: the best time to start teaching ukulele is when the learner is interested. I do not recommend five year old as the ideal age at which to begin teaching ukulele. I happen to work with five year olds, so that's what you'll see in these posts. My hunch is that eight or nine year old kids would be more successful, but I work with five year olds who want to learn ukulele, so I go with that.)

With that in mind, here's lesson one.

The first thing to teach your class is how to hold the ukulele when carrying it from place to place. If you skip this step, you may wind up with broken ukuleles.

I teach my kids to carry the ukulele like a baby: held to the heart. This way decreases the possibility of dropping the ukulele, or swinging it. It also emphasizes the connection to the heart, and I think one of the reasons I am so drawn to the ukulele is that it has a way of opening hearts.

Rebecca demonstrates how to carry a ukulele—cuddled to the heart.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Another wonderful day with lots of learning and happiness, or maybe the other way 'round as happiness helps to create the conditions needed for optimal learning.

Yesterday I mentioned having Alyssa's sister, Natasha, come to kindergarten for a day of help. At that time I thought that it was for one-day only. So you may imagine how pleased I was when she asked if she could come back again for day two.

Here's a picture of Natasha holding the Dunham Outstanding citizen plaque that is on display in the Community Room:

I think you're wonderful, Natasha. Thank you!

Here's the news of the day. Lilly was the person. We enjoyed her book, More Parts by Tedd Arnold. We tried a new dance, or perhaps I should say the students were excited to revisit a dance most of them learned before coming here: Ring Around the Rosy. Before too long, I'll bet we add London Bridge and  Musical Chairs to our list of dances.  (Yes, I know you might say that neither are dances, per se, but both are movin' to music, so they qualify in my book.)

Click on photo for a closer look.

Okay, for homework over the weekend, have your child read this message to you.
Be well

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This old guy would skate, I'm sure of that!

The good news is Maddie Everson did not break her arm last night at the roller skating event. She only sprained it.

That's the reason (in case you were wondering) why I don't go to "Skate Night"—too dangerous for an older guy like me who never skated much to begin with. The first one I went to, years ago, I fell badly on my arm. I thought it was broken. I lost a day of work and over the next few weeks nursed a very badly sprained wrist back to health.

Mrs. Everson got in by mid morning with the good news, a relief to all of us. We got through the morning hour usually devoted to our learning centers by doing a Cat-in-the-Hat drawing lesson, work made much easier with the generous help of my room moms who once again went the extra mile for the kindergarten. THANK YOU!

Finally! New art for the front wall.

Such good drawings
We had our weekly drama lesson with our drama teacher, Dana Davis. She provided props and the students improvised mini scenes using the props.

It's been a long time since we found time to be with our third grade buddies. The rain-canceled our usual bicycle time, so we joined with our friends from third grade for some time to share art

Marley and Kiyana doing art in the third grade room.

Watercolors were available, too.

or Lego constructions, depending on interest

Alyssa's oldest sister (seventh grader and Dunham Kindergarten graduate) Natasha Mc Kenney had a day off school and stayed with us all day long to help the students in countless ways. I heard many students say how much they liked Natasha.

Natasha earned Dunham School's most prestigious award last spring: the Dunham Outstanding Citizen Award. She was selected by the staff as the most helpful, considerate, thoughtful, and kind student in a graduating class that was full of many fine citizens.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Technical difficulties are conspiring to make posting to Mr. Kindergarten more challenging than usual. Today, it's the storm-related power outage that took out power at the end of the day. But we're back, now so here goes.

We enjoyed a quick morning. Several prospective parents for the kindergarten of 2011/2012 toured through the room this morning, looking in on our daily routine. We enjoyed another half hour with our buddies from fifth grade.

I think the boys from fifth grade were especially pleased to help their buddies with Lego projects. I know I would have been pleased if it were me.

Our music teacher, Andrew was out today, so Dana filled in for him. We visited the first grade classroom to practice with them for the pasta night performance (the non-ukulele part of it).

Speaking of ukes, I got word yesterday that the ukes I'm buying with the Petaluma Rotary grant money arrived yesterday, so I am looking forward to picking them up this afternoon. Danny's grandpa will install the storage hooks for them tomorrow.

Near the end of the day, Elena proved to everyone that she knows the Soundabet in lowercase Queens cards. Needless to say, we all shared in Elena's happiness. See—

We zipped out for some play between the showers.


Ukuleles will be featured in the teacher performance at the pasta night as well—I'm enjoying our practices for that.

Tonight's Car Tally homework is not due until Friday, so no stress if it is hard to collect data in the thunderstorms.

Be well!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Computer problems, hopefully resolved, make for a short post today.

Here's the report:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day, 2011--Report

There is a letter missing... what is it?

We celebrated Valentine's Day today. All went smoothly, especially considering that it rained today when we usually ride bikes.

We played inside for recess and even a little more since both Rieley and Elena earned the class some extra time thanks to mastering the Soundabet.

Marley working on a beautiful butterfly
that she was able to finish.
Rieley made a couple of "Iron Men" characters.

Gavin showing his Lego creation

Justin saving his Lego
Mollie strings a necklace

Decorating heart pouches for Valentine collections

Cookies ready to decorate.

More isn't always better, but it's hard to stop....
Along the way we were able to do some of our usual instructional activities.

It was a comparatively orderly and pleasant party day in kindergarten.

Be well.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Teaching as an Art

Red Hill, looking east, 2/6/11

Depending upon the attitude we bring to our classrooms, teaching can be drudgery, employment to pay the bills, a craft, or even—in some moments—a form of artistic expression.

Much of what I do outside the classroom is to prepare myself fully for the work I do in the classroom.

This quotation from St. Francis of Assisi expresses how I feel really well:

“If you work with your hands, you’re a laborer.
If you work with your hands and your mind, you’re a craftsman.
If you work with your hands and your mind and your heart, you’re an artist.”
—Saint Francis of Assisi

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine's Day is Monday

On Monday we'll have a Valentine's Day card exchange.

I invite your child to make a Valentine's Card for all the classmates. There are 25 pupils in kindergarten.

Please note:

Don't have your child write their classmates' names on their cards.

If the kids had to properly deliver their 25 cards we'll have about 625 correct deliveries to make, and about the same number of tears. No one needs the stress of it!

Thank you.

Yankee Doodle with Hannah

Hannah's mom, Julie, had her camera with her when we were playing Yankee Doodle. She switched it to video mode and got this video. (Thank you, Julie!)

Note to other teachers who may be contemplating adding ukulele to your program. This video shows where we are after our first lesson on ukulele. I went over:

  • the parts of the ukulele, 
  • how to hold a ukulele
  • how to start and stop a song, 
  • how to strum the strings, and
  • how to make a C chord.

This first 5 point lesson takes about 30 minutes to teach, including time for each child to choose a song to sing and play. I taught it to small groups over a period of about a week. Most of the kids in the class can play like Hannah. At this point in the game it's basically a rhythm instrument since we're not changing chords, just playing the tonic all the way through all of our songs. It works.

It gets us on the road to playing and singing, and it whets the appetite to learn more. And gets us ready for our first performances before an audience.

Have a look:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

The day in photos:

Here's a summary of some of the activities we did today.

Hannah played Yankee Doodle for the class.

She invited Danny and Quinn to join us on ukes, with Jackson on the skins.

Miss Roach came by for a visit and was welcomed with many hugs. Here's one from Lilly.

She read Hannah's story, Cinderella.

Zander is absorbed in the story....

Rebecca, too,

and Ryan and Elsa... everyone really.

The yummy snack that Hannah brought.
 Another fine day. Enjoy the beautiful weather. I'm told that we're in for a change of weather over the weekend.

Be well.