Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Writing Poetry Inspired by e.e. cummings

In our final Philosophy session before Winter break, our last day on Nature, the students and I considered Baruch Spinoza and his theory that "there is only one substance with infinite powers of transformation. This substance is nature, and it is God." (The quote is from page 246 of Marietta McCarty's book Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy with Kids, and not from Spinoza.)

As we explored this idea some of the older children realized that this "one substance" could be atoms! Hmmm... very true! We found it interesting that Spinoza (1632-1677) pre-dated the idea of atoms with Dalton (1766-1844).

(If you're ever using this book to teach about Spinoza, personally, I don't like the analogy of a worm and a tomato and have found that it just causes confusion in the classroom... a better example is a seed becoming a flower.)

We then went on to Marietta's suggestion of studying the concept of Resemblance (for example, the folds of our brain resemble the folds of our intestines), ending with the incredible TED talk by National Geographic photographer Franz Lanting, Life: A Journey through Time (21:33).

His book of photographs for this project is just beautiful!

When we returned to Philosophy this week it was to begin a new topic. Again, I used Marietta's book to guide my lesson planning. She suggests starting by listening to several versions of "Here Comes the Sun." I made a little playlist on Amazon Music the night beforehand and played Nina Simone (3:34), The Beatles (3:05), and Richie Havens (4:14).

The children had to listen to the song and try to guess the feeling which it invokes. I told them that this feeling will be our Philosophy topic. Mid-way through the Beatles version someone said, Happy! Yes, our new topic is Happiness. Philosophers are interested in things which at first seem to be too simple to be interesting. For example, if happiness is essential to humans, why do we so often lose it -- by NOT putting in our lives what makes us happy -- or we forget about it and don't even notice when we are happy?

Before we tried to explain what Happiness is, the children drew their own pictures showing happiness, with two restrictions (these are meant to invite clearer thinking). No people. No words.

Some children shared their artwork and talked about what they thought happiness was and what made them happy.

We talked about the three discussion questions on page 62. When asked if there's a difference between happiness and pleasure, one boy told me "Happiness is the result of pleasure." When I asked if pleasure could ever not lead to happiness, like when you eat too much cake at a birthday party, he responded with, "In some cases, if you eat too much, you can lose happiness in the pleasure and you also lose the pleasure."

In a favorite moment, when asked how you would like to look back on your life from the standpoint of old age, one little girl stated simply, "I would still like to play on the playground even though I'm old." Then, I shared with them a poet who never lost his sense of whimsy. That is the incomparable e.e. cummings!

The poem I read is #13 in his 100 Selected Poems. It is called "who knows if the moon's / a balloon ..."

You can also find it online for free in pdf format here.

After enjoying his image of the moon as a hot air balloon which could take us on a trip to a "keen city" in the sky, where "everyone's / in love and flowers pick themselves," children wrote their own poems about what the moon could be.

Here are a few which we wrote and wanted to publish in the blog:

Who knows if the moon's
a huge scoop of
ice cream
vanilla, of course,
hovering over us
and the earth is a cone

and when it gets smaller in the sky that's because
some outer space monster was
tempted and



What is the moon?
It could be cheese or...

Who knows if the moon
is a skeleton's head?
maybe... on Halloween
maybe... in the black scary night

Vain is his name
if there really is a skeleton on the moon

maybe the skeletons are aliens
who knows if dragons are real?
who knows if flying vipers are real?
who knows if there's basilisks in the sink?
who knows if the BFG is real?

maybe the basilisk is named BLARK

The Moon

The moon is a rocky satellite in outer space that helps the Earth keeps its tide levels and gravity and also the possibility of oxygen on the Earth. It is covered with craters and has been said to look like Swiss cheese. Oh and also that's the cat's base where the cats watch over us and help us and stop wars.

WhO' kNOwS) If. tHE

cheese cheddar.

WhO' kNOwS) If. tHE

A ba77) basket.

We have also been having some fun with words in our regular class! I recently introduced "The Dictionary Game." This has always been a favorite with past classes of students and, happily, I found it nicely explained in our read-aloud (and follow-up to the Human Body MLB), The Book of Think.

It works best to prominently display the grammar symbol for the part of speech. This helps students craft more authentic-sounding definitions. I like to use an old dictionary because it is more likely to have words which aren't used anymore. My favorite is the Webster's New Modern Self-Pronouncing Dictionary from 1938. Helping students have strong dictionary skills (alphabetical order, guide words, and how a dictionary entry is organized) are always important and this is a fun way to review them... practice parts of speech... and have a little fun with human psychology at the same time!

Yesterday's words were all nouns (the big black triangle in the Montessori Grammar Symbols). They were




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