The Education of Faustina

June 29, 2021

The number 3

I explained to Faustina that her name had 3 syllables, and demonstrated what I meant by saying her name as Faus – Tin –  A. She did likewise. I pointed out that her brother’s name had 3 syllables, and pronounced if for her as, Josh –  U –  Ah.  She did like wise.

I showed her a three note pattern on the keyboard   C, B, C, neighboring notes. She repeated the pattern. Then I showed her C A C, and she repeated the pattern

I asked her to repeat  ! , 2 , 3, three times, and it was obvious by her puzzled look that she did not know what “Times” meant. Then I said, 1 2 3 , 1 2 3,  1 2 3, and she repeated this pattern saying 123 three times, but raising this question, when does the term, “times” begin to have meaning for a four year old, separated from the concept of multiplication, such as, “pat your head 3 times.” Without a demonstration of what you mean by those words.

Faustina was presented with 2 ½ inch white cardboard squares with the letters of her name on one side. She easily spelled her name, putting the letters in order, but did not notice that some letters were upside down, or sideways.

On the back of the squares were numbers and she put them in order 1 through 10, but sometimes did not notice when a number was upside down, but did not notice if I corrected her mistake, by rotating the numbers. She displays a degree of self confidence such that corrections do not cloud her countenance, but she exhibits obvious satisfaction when she is complimented on the things she does well.

  I asked Faustina to do a drawing, but instead she began to write a long letter in an imaginary script of her own invention, with marks going from left to right in repeated lines, composed of idiosyncratic varied marks. Asked to tell me what she had written, she did not answer. Asked if she wanted me to read the “story”, she consented, and so I made up a story about her sentences.

Pointing to each line I said:

Line 1,  Faustina and her mom went to the store.

Line 2, Faustina’s mon said, “Now get in the cart.”

Line 3. Faustina said ,” No, I don’t want to.”

Line 4, More of the same, describing her trip to the store and home again with her Mom. At the store they buy 13 apples, and 17 bananas. “Both 13 and 17 are numbers Faustina does not know yet.

Line 5. Then when Faustna got in the car she said, “Please turn on the air conditioner Mom, because it is sweltering hot in here.”

This last line was added simply to observe her reaction to words attributed to her, which are not in her vocabulary. Her reaction was to understand the comic nature of the statement. 

July 6, 2021

60 Pennies

Faustina and her 2 year old brother were presented with sixty pennies, and invited to make a picture with them. The pennies were in a small square box with a fitted lid.  Sitting at  a child’s table on small chairs the pennies were spilled out on the table top. On a piece of paper I drew a circle 10 inches in diameter and placed a penny on the line of the circle. Both children without instruction or any encouragement began to place pennies edge to edge, along the line until a circle of pennies was created. It should be noted that Joshua, who is 2, instantly understood what was expected, as if making circles out of pennies was the most natural thing in the world.

Of note is the fact that birds recognize circles and other shapes, and can distinguish between objects that are “on” the circle, and those not on the circle, so it might appear that the instant recognition of the circle is somehow innate and automatic, a part of the default programing of the brain.

The next figure created an unexpected oddity. The 2 were asked to fill in a square, and I did not begin the placement of the pennies. Faustina placed 2 pennies one at each corner, and Joshua placed two pennies at 2 corners also. Next both children placed pennies in the centers of the sides, rather than tangent to the corner pennies. When I attempted at this point to place a penny tangent to a corner penny, Faustina corrected me, indicating that she expected the next placements to be adjacent to the ones in the centers of the sides.

I would like to point out this ability of the student to correct the teacher, which I consider one of the most important and satisfying aspects of teaching children anything.

Then I asked Faustina to draw a shape for us to decorate with our pennies. She drew a large circle, nearly filling the paper she was drawing on. I want to say some things specifically about the circle she drew. Faustina has just recently exited the stage of scribbling, and has entered the stage of drawing specific shapes. Having only just started to draw shapes, she exerts very focused attention to this task, and does it slowly. Her circle consisted of about seven independent short arcs, all connected, as if her circle was a construction of various parts. Basically, her finger movements formed the parts of her circle, in the future she will draw a circle with a single gesture, but that is a way off. *

In  conclusion I asked Faustina the name of the shape , and she said it was a “circle.”

Then I showed her our other shape, and she hesitated for a while and then said it was a “box.”

I said, “no,” it is a square.  This was a stupid thing for me to say, because she did not know the word, ‘square,’ and looking around, saw that the box our pennies came in was square, and identified the shape on the paper as a ‘box.’ My typical knee jerk reaction to her correct answer however could not be undone, but I point it out as an example of the tendency of adults to reject children’s correct answers, especially ones based on observation and reasoning, as wrong, because it is not the specific term we are expecting. This fault, if constantly repeated, leads to children who answer questions with the phrase, “I don’t know,” and an expectant look.

In conclusion I made a drawing of the family’s house. It was a view from the side, which is the view they see when they arrive in their driveway. It is the house of their farm. In the drawing was their house, their car, two tricycles, a chicken, a pond beyond the house, a barn and a silo. I asked Faustina to add a chicken, which she did, by adding a small knot of scribbles next to my drawing of a chicken. Then I put in some clouds, and she asked to add some clouds, and did so exercising her new found skill of drawing shapes. She did not draw a circle however, but a cloud shape.

To conclude I asked her to sign the drawing. I expected her to use her pretend invented script that I mentioned in the previous lesson, but she began to actually write her name beginning with a vertical line, and 2 disconnected horizontal marks, which was her approximation of the letter F but backwards. Then she added an A, and then said, “What comes next?”

I said to her mother “Look at this she is signing her name,”  her mother replied, “Yes, she just started that this week.” 

July 13 2021

Licence Plate

When I arrived Faustina was busy. Her mother had drawn an ice cream cone on a piece of paper, and she was about half way done outlining it with her pennies. She was alternately placing the pennies and fending off her brother who was both trying to help her, and trying to disrupt the proceeding. Their mother was trying to manage the interaction, a dynamic obviously characteristic of family life. In my experience so far, these struggles almost never result in any tears. Sometimes Joshua is threatened with the punishment of having to sit in the easy chair. 

Faustina was willing to give up the pennies project having become aware that I was there so they put the pennies away for a later time.

I asked her this question to begin, I said, “Faustina, do you remember a few weeks ago when you counted to four and you made a mistake and it was funny.“  She smiled at this remark, but did not think it was necessary to reply. Her mother said, “I remember that.”

I said, “You were going to say, One Two Three Four, and instead you said one, two, three, more. Now, what I want you to do is listen to me and I will say one, two, three, four, and if I make a mistake you correct me”

So, with her watching me intently, I said, “One two three four.”

Faustina nodded and said, “correct.”

Then I said “One two three FLOOR.” I said the word floor with force, even threatically. This shocked Faustina who reacted with sudden joy and excitement and she pronounced “Wrong.”

And then One Two Three DOOR, and

One Two Three MOORE

One Two Three Dinosaur.

Why was I doing this? Because it is difficult to get a child to count to four and then stop, and repeat it over again. You will recall from the previous lesson that I was engaged in trying to get Faustina to understand, “three times”, and the idea of repeating 123 over and over. The child wants to continue counting right up to ten, and can’t understand stopping at four, since their entire life they have been encouraged and reward for going beyond four, as far beyond four as possible, until they reach  troubled waters, and crash and burn when they get tof 11 , 12, 13 and 14, which they know in their tender  little hearts, were numbers created to torment and confuse their otherwise tranquil minds.

But I want Faustina to say 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, because it is the basis of music, which I intend to teach her, so that is where the word floor comes in, just to get her to stop at four.

The second project of the day consisted of going outside and drawing a picture of the license plate on the car. The drawing of the plate was to be done in the house later, the trip to the car was intended to gather the necessary information about the plate, so that we could reconstruct its image later. The mother took the notes, Faustina assisted with the observations and measurements, and Joshua, since we were outside, lost interest and retreated to the porch and began playing with his tricycle. In the distance, about a hundred yards away, on the near side of the pond, was the children’s father. He was planting tomatoes in a row. He was wearing a red and black checked shirt. He looked up for a moment, and waved. I am not sure if it was tomatoes he was planting. He perhaps wondered what we were doing crouched at the back end of the family mini-van. 

Using a tape measure we measured the width of the plate. Faustina counted it up to 12. Ignoring the edge of the plate she continued counting past 12 into the difficult numbers, saying anything that sounded like numbers to her, but we wrote down 12. Then Faustina held the tape, and I counted out the height, which turned out to be 6. Luckily, we did not have to deal with any fractions. We made a note of all the plate information, but it was obvious that she did not know her numbers by sight and out of context, so she could not name the 7 and the 9. She knows these numbers when counting, but not when they appear alone. She traced the numbers with her finger, and I pointed out that the numbers were “Fat,”  meaning that they had thickness. She said “fat,” and then traced the edges of the seven with a finger of each hand, along the edges, signifying the fatness of the shape. The concept of fat letters will help her in the future if she ever desires to paint her name on the sides of railroad cars.

 She identified all the letters of Massachusetts, but became a little fatigued at about e t t. 

Suddenly I became aware that Joshua was not there, so I stopped what I was doing and said, “Where’s Joshua?”

“Over by the porch,” his mother said. So then we went on and noted all the other details of the plate. The expiration year 21, the state slogan, and the four holes, two with screws holding the plate to the car, and two holes without screws and the plates curved corners. After that we went into the house and I drew a facsimile full sized drawing of the plate on a 10 x 14 inch piece of paper.

Faustina watched the drawing of the plate with complete attention, sitting next to the table, her elbows on the table and her head in her hands. Since I am an artist the lettering was done artistically, slowly and fluently, over lightly sketched guidelines. In my experience, a child’s witness of a drawing being done by an artist has an aspect of awesome magic about it, however, I wanted her participation in the drawing and thought I could engage her with the expiration number in the corner. The number was 21, but since she doesn’t know her twenties, I said . “Will you put in the one and the two?” She replied, “I will put the one, and you put the 2.” 

The above was our first complete conversation, and marks the beginning of being able to talk with her, rather than exchanges that consist of simple questions and her one word replies. This, I felt, marked a major change and evolution in our relationship.

I believe that she didn’t want to draw the number 2 because she was afraid her 2 would not be good enough for such a project. She was willing to do the 1, and said so. So, she drew the 1 and I drew the 2, we finished up the plate, and went on to our next project.

I had prepared a little book measuring 4” X 5” called Faustina’s Name Book. The left hand pages of the book each had one letter of her name, and the facing page was blank. The idea was that she would look at the letter, and then make a copy of it. There was also a Joshua’s name book. I gave each child their book and then addressing Faustina I said, “You are going to copy all the letters in the book, and Joshua is going to scribble all over the pages of his book. Faustina nodded, and Joshua did not hear what I said, because he was completely absorbed in scribbling energetically all over the J on the first page of his book. Faustina opened her book, looked with satisfaction at the F, and said, “I know this one,” And copied the F. Turning the page she again said “I know this one.” But she did not draw an A, but she drew an H. It was apparent that the diagonal aspect of the A was some sort of sticking point for her. As she finished her H like A, she considered it for a moment, and then placed the pencil at the top of the right side of the H and drew a line connecting the 2 verticals, because she knew they had to touch. She was nervous about this repair she had made, and I could see she expected some comment from me but I said “Excellent,” with mock conviction, and she accepted my exclamation with mock pleasure. Next came the U. She did not want to draw the u and had to be urged on with encouragement. I thought the U looked pretty easy but she was afraid of its curve. She considered curves dangerous, and so I said to her, “Do you think curves are hard?”  

“Yes,” she said.

“So, there are hard and there are easy letters?” I asked.

“Yes.” she answered, but she drew the u with firm confidence and turned the page only to be confronted by an evil snake of a letter S.

“This is a hard one isn’t it?”  I said.

She was so absorbed by the danger presented to her by this sinister S, that she did not respond to my question. She bent forward and placed her pencil at the top of my letter S, and then with extreme care she traced my S from top to bottom.

Please recall what I said about her drawing of a circle for the pennies the week previous. I said that she drew the 8 inch circle with a series of small arcs, connected end to end. Her letter S was exactly the same, and I include its image for you so you can see what she did. The shape she drew she accompanied with a narration said quietly to herself, she said, “Like this, and this, and this , and this, and this, and this.” Her S consisted of 11 separate strokes, done with simultaneous motions of both the hand and the fingers, and clearly illustrates her conception of the extreme difficulty of the execution of an S.

Nevertheless I asked her to draw her own S on the facing page, and she did it with quiet resignation and the expectation of certain failure. Her own version of S expressed the idea, “You know, just a bunch of various marks going all over the place.” I turned the page and did not offer her any praise, not wanting to insult her intelligence.

On the following page we found a T, and we both said, “An easy one.”

Thus ended this lesson. In parting I played her a song on the piano. The notes of the song were:   C C C C , D D D D , C C C C, B B B B.

The words of the song were:

One two three four,

One two three door,

One two three floor,

One two Three more.

Then I asked her to play c four times which she did, after I demonstrated what I meant. Then we did four D’s and four E’s going up the scale till we got to the octave.  By accident I touched a note and noticed that this keyboard was touch sensitive, so as an experiment I played A four times very softly, and she did likewise, clearly understanding a soft touch. But then I went just one step more. I played three soft A’s and a loud A, and she did the exact same. 

Then I said to her Mother, “Did you see this?”

“Yes,” she said. 

July 20, 2021

Eleven Came down From Heaven 

When I arrived the children were outside. Both were in crash helmets. They had new bicycles, of a size for a 2 and a 4 year old, with training wheels. Faustina’s bike had the training wheels installed, but Joshua’s were in process. Both rode up and down the walk, with their mother’s help. Then we went inside, but Joshua was screaming, because he wanted to continue with the bike.

We stopped first in the kitchen, and I took a 12 inch kitchen clock out of my bag and gave it to Faustina, and proceeded to ask Kristie (Mom) a few questions. When I was leaving the previous week I had asked about their chickens, which I had seen around the house in previous weeks. The chickens were no more however, and had been eaten by a Bobcat some time previous. I asked if the children had been upset, but Kristie said, “No, I cried, but Fastina was not upset and comforted me.” I was anxious to know if the chickens had names, because I thought this would indicate some further emotional connection, and Kristie told me what their names were.

So, at the beginning of this lesson, while Faustina wondered about the clock, I asked to hear again the names of the deceased chickens. Their names were:  Chiquita, Juanita, Bonita, and Margarita.  You will hear about these chickens in the future as characters in stories I will make up for Faustina, and her brother. 

I brought a ruler, and I explained to Faustina that I had brought the ruler and the clock because they both have the number twelve, and eleven, and today’s lesson was to be about those two numbers. I could see instantly in Faustina’s expression that she was prepared to put up with that sort of thing but only for a few minutes.

There is a big difference between Faustina and myself about the number 12. For me, 12 is 4 times 3, and also 6 + 6,  half a day’s hours, the mark of one foot on a tape measure, and many other things, but for Faustina, 11 and 12, are sounds that come after the sound ‘ten.’  Eleven and twelve are sounds that come after 10 only in one situation, when you are making the sounds starting with 1, and ending in 12. 12 has nothing to do with twelve o’clock, or 12 pennies, or 3 times 4, or any designation of amounts. So, Faustina set to work to explain this complicated concept to me, repeatedly taking my examples and demonstrating to me how my words did not mean what I thought they meant. She showed me how, if I point to the 7 on the clock, that for her it might just as well be a 6 for all she cared, and also, 11 might sometimes be 8, and also 9, depending on how you look at it. But I persisted in trying to trick her into saying what I had hoped she might say.

I held up both my hands and on my left hand I counted 1 to 5, and for each number I extended one finger, then I did 6 through 10, using the digits of my right hand. Faustina copied me exactly, counting each number and extending the correct finger, in proper order. Then we did it a second time. But, I encouraged her to do it yet a third time, and so she deliberately did it wrong, counting to 6 on one hand, and 7 through 12 on just the fist of the other hand. And so, without words, using facial expressions and gestures, Faustina said to me, “Bug off with this stupid stuff, and lets go draw pictures now.”

At four years old, drawing pictures, and talking about what is drawn, is the alpha and omega of existence.

You will remember that Faustina had a piano lesson the previous week, and in that lesson she played the note c four times repeating my pattern. What I did not mention was that after the repeat patterns, she watched my hand while I played a double note, c and e with the index finger and thumb of my right hand. After I did that, she placed her hand above the keys and played the e with the index finger, but it seemed to me that her thumb longed to attempt the C, but didn’t dare, it was sort of an expectant quiver of the thumb.

Later, I said to my daughter Julia, “Really, I think she understands 2 notes at once, but it could be wishful thinking.”

So, now, a week later I played C and E together, three times, and she repeated it exactly, first adjusting her fingers carefully, so as not to touch the D. 

The project of making shapes with the pennies has continued. In the living room was the little table with a half completed penney drawing of a popsicle. The children began putting away the coins that go in a 3 inch square box. Joshua considers the entire purpose of the box and the coins now is to dump them out, and put them back in the box again. He copies Faustina’s technique of sweeping the coins off the table with one hand, and catching them with the other hand held at the edge of the table. During the week Faustina has improved on this method, substituting the box itself, for the collecting hand, and just running the coins off the table directly into the waiting box.

I was impatient to begin a drawing on the table and in my haste I started to plow the coins into the box using the lid of the box as a shovel. Faustina, seeing me do this, instantly grabbed the lid from me and began to use it’s edge as a shovel, and repeated  my word, ‘shovel.’

I call attention to this because of the instantaneous aspect of learning something at the right moment. I did not ‘teach’ Faustina to shovel pennies, although I might take credit for it. She is ready to learn such a thing at that very moment, and I put it in front of her and saw her understand it. We could spend hours on Eleven, but it will not come down from heaven till it is good and ready.

Together we drew the clock. To draw the circles I had brought along 2 plates, and part of the drawing lesson involved using the plates as a template, one inside another, to draw the circles. The use of the template fell in the same category as the penny shovel, and was understood at once. We took turns putting in the numbers, Faustina resolutely refusing to try any numbers with curves, as she does not like them. I forced her to do the 3, and she relented, and you can see the result. I put in the hands, but forgot the minute hand. She pointed out its absence, and I put it in, demonstrating for her the use of the ruler to get it “Really straight.” 

In parting I left her with a plastic template for drawing various geometric shapes, as I guessed correctly that she would understand what to do with it.

I prepared to leave and Faustina, for the first time, extended her arms to me and I picked her up and gave her a hug. Then, in a sort of ceremonial way, Joshua also reached out his arms to be picked up. So, indeed at this point they consider me to be a member of their family, as obviously I consider them to be a part of mine.

July 27, 2021

At Sixes and Sevens

I thought I had a good idea but I was not sure. I was going to stay away from 11, and twelve, and stick to the numbers 1 to 5, or the numbers of one hand. Like most adults, working out a teaching plan, I began to expand it, with justifications. I decided to go to six. I thought I could add six because it had a “special significance,” there are 6 in the family; Mamma, Pappa, Faustina, and Joshua, whom you know, and the babies Christian, and Klole, whom you do not know yet. So, I planned to use this idea of  “Six in the family,” and used it to grind in and bludgeon Faustina with it, sure that, even if I could not teach her any double digits, I would be able to get her to have 6 as her “Special number.” 

But as I drove to their house I began to be bothered by a possible problem. What if she had difficulty seeing the difference between six and nine? Well, I just planned to leave 9 right out of it.

In the kitchen the parents had pasted up 11 and twelve on the wall , and all week they had been trying to get Faustina to acknowledge the meaning of those digits. 

“No,” I said, no 11 and 12, that will come later. We are going to work on 6, the lesson today is just going to be 6.

But, first a little number torture to start. I held up 2 fingers, still in the kitchen, not yet is the “school,” which is the living room. Faustina looked at my fingers and said, “One, two, two.” So, even with 2 fingers she was going to count first, and answer later. She did the same with three and with four, also five and six.

Therefore, without a doubt, everything I had planned for the day was not possible, but I had other things I wanted to try involving six.

I had a stencil made of a heart shape, actually 3 stencils of different sizes, and I knew without a doubt that both Faustina and Joshua would know what they were and how to use them, and so they went right to work making hearts with the stencils. But I wanted to play a game with the hearts so first I took a piece of paper, drew 3 hearts and held it up for Faustina and said, “How many?” “One, two , three, three, she answered.” Then I whispered to her, “Let’s see if your mom can get it right,” and so turning to Khristie, I held up the paper and asked her, “How many?”

“ Three,” said Kristie.

I was doing this because I was looking for the expression on Faustina’s face when her mother got it right. When Kristie answered 3, Faustina’s face lit up with special pleasure and excitement. It is that reaction which is, to me, the key. It is exactly like when you turn the key in the car and the engine starts, you know it started, there is no doubt. The child’s face tells you everything there is to know about what works and what does not. If the child’s face does not light, you are going down the wrong path. 

So, I continued down the wrong path, leading to a dead end, trying to teach Faustina the number 6.

I began talking about the names of the members of her family, and if you counted them up it came to 6. I wrote 6 on a piece of paper, and said it was like a spoon with the circle at the bottom. I had her copy 6 three times, and then I said. “Now, the 9 looks like a 6, and a six is a 9 when you turn it upside down!”

Please recall what I said about Faustina’s facial expression, here I encountered the opposite face, confusion and sadness. Yes, I said sadness, because I was failing to understand her. 

If Faustina could have spoken to me with the adult’s mind that is in her little person, this is what she would have said to me.

“Richard, what gives you the idea that I know what the words “Upside down.” mean. Actually, do the words upside down actually mean anything at all. My Mom puts on my pink wristwatch in the morning, and do you think I notice whether it is 12 or 21 upside down o’clock. And so you sit down across from me at a table and you draw me a six. And I look at it and I see a six, but you look at it on your side of the table, and the thing you drew is a nine, and if you put it sideways, what is it then? So, get your story straight before we talk sixes and nines again.”

So lastly I drew a schema of a house with a door, and I put in it 2 nickels and four pennies, and I told her the coins were the members of her family, and I asked her to count them and she counted to six, and she said all the names. Then I made up a little story about how the Pappa goes to work so I moved one nickel, and the Mama takes one child out to the car, and then another, all the while Faustina is narrating along with me and repeating this obviously compelling analogy, of money for the family.

Then all the coins come back into the house. The coins in the house had this configuration, one set of a nickel and two pennies, and another set of a nickel and two pennies. “So,” I said,  how many are in the house?” 

Faustina counted both sets and turning to me she announced 3, and 3.

“Yes Yes,” I said with excitement, “And how much is  3 and 3?”

And she answered, “3 and 3, is 3 and 3!”

“Right Faustina, that is so right, you have no idea.” But she gave me this hint as to how to proceed. A number has a number shape, and it is a sound, but perhaps it must also be a configuration of specific objects laid out in an visually understandable way.  

Her mother had said when I entered that Faustina had drawn an S, correctly during the week, so as we concluded our lesson I asked her to sign her name, and she set out to do it in her mode of extreme concentration. She made an F, this time with all three parts connected. Then she made an A, but like before it was an H, repaired across the top, and again she looked at me out of the corner of her eye to see my reaction. She made a U, and then she got to the S. She began the S, and got a little way in, and then proceeded to make a big scribble all over the paper. Then she looked up at me, because she knew what she would see. She saw that she had the key, the key that would make me laugh and give me a strange satisfaction, my pleasure in her resistance, in her unwillingness to be tested, in her impudent comical defiance. 

Remember the story I made up for her that had the line, “Her Mother said, “now get in the cart,” and she said “No, I don’t want to.” I make no apology for this subserviseness, only because I will evidence an even greater pleasure when they do things correctly.

I gave Kriste this lecture, but Faustine was also my intended audience. I said, “Faustina does not know the difference between 6 and 9. When she is seven she will know all of that, and lots more, and when she is ten she will know all there is to know. Meanwhile, we are not going to get behind her and try and shove her into the future, she will get there soon enough.

Then turning to her I said, “You are 4, and next you will be five, after that you will be 6 and 7, 8 and 9, and then comes 10. 10 is called double digits.” Faustina understood all of that perfectly, because she knew what I was actually saying was, “I like you Faustina.”  

         Then I told them a story. I composed it partly in my head on the way there, and the rest on the spot.

         Story  synopsis: A family parks their car by the side of the road to pick berries. A family of bears takes the car and drives off. The Mother bear does not know how the car works, but the little bears know, and she says, “How did you know that?  And they reply, “I don’t know how I know, I just know.” This is a refrain that recours. The bears go home and take a nap, one of the little bears goes for a walk and sees the car family crying and so goes home and tells mother bear she has to return the car. The bears worry that they might frighten the people, so they hatch a plan. The little bears go to the top of a mountain and sing a beautiful song. This lulls the family to go in search of the music, and when they return, their car is where it was. They are confused because there’s so much fur in the car, and worry it is not their car,, but they look at the license plate and find it is theirs because the plate says 123 ABC.

The purpose of this story:  Kristie said the children are not upset that a bobcat ate their chickens, but I imagine they might be actually upset about it. The story expresses the idea that wild animals do not want to harm us, and perhaps might even care about our trials and tribulations.

August 2, 2021

Four and a Half Fingers

Today when her lessons started, Fuastina identified three fingers as 3, without counting first. This is how it came about. During the week I was thinking about how almost all important learning comes from the child imitating the actions of their parents, and not from instruction. I decided that, if I could demonstrate conclusively that I know 3 fingers instantly, when I see them, most likely she would too. So I did not ask Faustina about the fingers, instead I simply held up three fingers for her to see, and shouted, “THREE.”  I had been talking to Kristie about something first when I did this. Then I went on talking to Kristie, but then suddenly I put up 2 fingers and shouted TWO. After about four or five of these demonstrations of my knowledge of my fingers, I held up two fingers, and for just a split second Faustina started to count, but then, instead said TWO, forcefully, like I had been doing. So, then for the rest of the session, she would state the correct answer to finger’s questions, without hesitation or counting.

Now, I might drive home later, thinking to myself how smart I am, and what a good idea that was, but the truth might be something different, and what happened might fall into the “box lid shovel,” category, in that all I happened to do was discover that she knows these numbers all along, and was answering the question the previous days with the correct answer, but flavored with her method of delivering it. But does she know the number 7 and 9? I don’t think so, but the first five are the springboard to the second 5.

Faustina understands that the piano is very important for me, and she knows also that I now think of her going to the piano as how the lesson begins. She went to the piano and got on the stool, and I set in to teaching her “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” In the past her Mother went first, but now she goes first, and I think she understands the significance of her graduation. She attends to the piano in a silent and serious mode, looking carefully at my fingers, and holding out her hand and examining her fingers, and it is easy to see how she is struggling to understand something very complicated. She places her hand on the keys, and plays C D E F G, using the fingers 1 2 3 4 5. And then she does the same in reverse. I look at this dumbfounded, but then I turn to her and suddenly put out my hand, three fingers extended, and shout, “How Many?”

“Three,” she shouts.

At this point I would like to say something about the children’s behavior. They are well behaved, but I want to explain that statement with examples. At the end of the lesson the children get stars for the day, pasted into a little book. Faustina presides, because it is assumed that Joshua is not old enough to manipulate the stars. He loves the stars with a passion and can hardly control himself, as he attempts to get at the star paper, and take them from his sister. He climbs on her and struggles with her, and she quietly and patiently fends him off. Last week he poked her in the eye. She let go of the stars, and covered her face with both hands. I thought, “There is going to be tears and crying now, and perhaps the ‘easy chair’ for Joshua.

Several seconds went by, and then Faustina uncovered her face, smiled to herself, and resumed attending to the stars. This lesson marks about two months of weekly lessons, and I have yet to see any tears from Faustina.

In the middle of the lesson, both children stop what they are doing, and get up on the couch and begin to look out the window. I turn to Kristie, and ask, “What is going on.” 

Kristie says, “They hear the garbage truck coming.” And then by way of further explanation she tells me that each week when the garbage truck comes, they rush to the window to greet the Garbage man, and wave to him. They will stay at the window until he waves back, and then, as he drives away, they thank him for taking away their garbage. The same for the mail woman.

Often the children have new things, Today, Joshua had a new stuffed dog, and Fasstina a fist sized Barbie Doll. These new toys were set aside when I came in, and I truly think it is an indication of my skill as a teacher, that they do that. Nevertheless, the Barbie doll came into play in an unexpected way, a way that further illustrates the interactions of the children, and especially Faustina’s temperament. We were tracing out the letters of Kristie’s name in a little book, when Joshua approached Faustina, and offered her her Barbie doll. He did not intend to actually give it to her, but was just baiting her, because when she reached for it he ran off into another room. She ran after him, through the dining room and into other rooms and then she came back to the work table empty handed, I said, “What happened.”

“He runs too fast.” she explained, thereby excusing her brother’s behavior, without the least sign of anger or unhappiness.

We copied out letters, but with the procedure reversed. Kristie copied out the letters of her name, while Faustina and I discussed how she was doing, talking about how easy or hard the letters were, and congratulating Kristie when she did a good job. We exclaimed about the S, when it came up, and talked about how the E, was like the letter F, it was an F, with a foot, but she made clear to me that she knew all that, and I wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t know.

Sitting at the small table, with Faustina on the left, and Joshua right in front of me, I began to turn the pages of a small book I made for the session. Each page had a shape, and the word for the shape underneath. Faustina would identify the shapes, but as soon as a new page appeared Joshua would plunge forward and begin to color scribble in the shape with his pencil. I did not interfere with his way of identifying the shapes, but after four or five pages he began to lose interest and decided to go and climb up the stool that was in front of the piano. Kristie, seeing what he was intending to do, said to him, “Not with the pencil.” and took the pencil from him. This was one of those little things that remains in my memory as the most important event of the day’s lesson. I think of myself as so observant, yet I never noticed this important pencil thing happening. 

I have a tendency to forget that just a few weeks ago Faustina had not even started to make shapes, and that the matter of making letters is, at this point, only a matter of small muscle control which is coming rapidly along, since she can play 5 notes on the piano with 5 individual fingers, a feat which requires the subtle movement of all the fingers, since her entire hand hardly covers C to E.

We parted, the children ran to the car for a hug, I put them down, and they ran back to their mother. As I was getting into my car I suddenly held up four fingers and shouted “How many?”

“Four,” shouted Faustina.

See now, see how stuck in my ways I am? I had to push it to 4, but she did the four anyway.

Kristie called out to me. “We’ll practice during the week.”

“O.K.” I replied,  “But don’t go to five.” Then holding out my hand I said, “because the thumb looks like half a finger, and she might think the correct answer is really four and a half.    

August 10

Froggie Went a Courtin

A few weeks prior the Mahl family had attended an art opening at a gallery. It was a show of unframed drawings of all sizes by 20 artists. The show was in my studio space that had been adjusted to accommodate the show.  I was curious about how Faustina would react to this novel experience. She was reserved, and her father held her the entire time she was there. Joshua was more gregarious and wandered around showing his truck to people. He had a small model of the truck in his hands. He came up to me and offered me the truck. I took it and admired it, and then returned it to him. Actually, I made friends with Joshua earlier and more easily than with Faustina. It took several weeks before Faustina began to be really comfortable with my instruction, but Joshua and I bonded at the beginning of the second session. He came up to me in the kitchen with a stone cupped in his hands, and standing in front of me he offered me his stone for me to admire. Having admired the stone I returned it to him as he knew I would, because it was a gesture of trust. I would even describe this happening as, “the ceremony of the stone,” and I will assume you have experienced it. At the opening he repeated this ceremony with the truck. 

Before they left Eric, their father said to me, “Faustina wants to know if she can have a drawing of hers in the next show.” She did not make this request to me directly, but conveyed it to me through her father. I replied to her directly, telling her that most certainly her drawings would be in the next show. I would like however to point out that in the show were several drawings by a four year old, and also by a seven year old.

When the lesson began I produced four drawings Faustina had done several weeks ago. All four were crayon scribble drawings on 5 x 7 paper. She was obviously pleased to see these old drawings from another time in her life, three weeks ago, a time when she had not advanced to the drawing of considered shapes. They were done in the last stages of the scribble period, being that they were overall scribbles, with the marks placed intentionally, as opposed to spastic motor gesture marks, not placed on the paper, but accumulated on the paper more as a record of a childs muscle movements. 

I asked her to choose her favorite drawing and she chose three. But then I asked her again and she picked out one. I took this one drawing, and with her assistance, I put it in a wood frame, the type used in art galleries, and which I have used many times in exhibitions. 

In the future scribbling will be returned to again and again, but as an expression of either frustration, or happy defiance to the structural shapes found in coloring books. 

I sat down at the piano after the piano part of the lesson and played and sang for them the song, “Froggie Went a Courtin.” It is a Bob Dylan Song entirely constructed as a child’s animal story, where a frog marries a mouse with the permission of Uncle Rat. As I began to play and sing this song, Faustina produced from I do not know where a bamboo flute, and began to toot out notes in accompaniment. There was no introduction to this event, and Faustina’s face declared this obvious comment, ”I knew for certain that you would love this.”

When it happened I couldn’t quite take it in, but later, driving home I thought “A first duet, is what that was.”

A few days later I said to my daughter Julia, “Faustina had one of those bamboo flutes, and she must have seen someone playing it because she went through the motions of fingering the holes with two fingers.”

“What song,” Julia asked

“Froggie Went a Courtin, you know Dylan, goes like:”

Frog went a-courtin’, and he did ride, uh-huh

Frog went a-courtin’, and he did ride, uh-huh

Frog went a-courtin’, and he did ride

With a sword and a pistol by his side, uh-huh

So, after the Uh-huh, I told her to go toot toot, and when the time came she put down the flute and said, “toot toot.”  So literal. So then she got the idea to blow the toot toot on the flute, and that was the end of the lesson, except for the hug, and the instructions that from now on, when I left, I was required to blow the horn like the Garbage man, and the Mail Woman do.

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