Wordplay and Hope

By Pat Montgomery, Founder

Editor’s Note: From time to time, we’ll “look back” through our archives to share articles that are as relevant today as when they were printed. In this piece that was originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of The Learning Edge, Clonlara’s founder reflects on the importance of incorporating hopeful words and expectations into conversations with young children.

When I was first invited to speak to teachers, parents, and journalists in Japan in 1983, I was pleasantly surprised to hear certain words being used as common parlance, words such as “brave” and “courage” and “valor” and “dignity.” Parents spoke them to their children, teachers to their students, and, occasionally, friends to their friends. I realized that such words were found only in literature in the United States that I inhabited, and that fact has remained true to this very day. I was reminded of this recently when a friend gave me a book written by Shinichi Suzuki in 1969, Nurtured by Love: A New Approach to Education.

Musicians will recognize Suzuki as the person famous for teaching very young children to play the violin (and, later, many other instruments). He was born in 1898 in Nagoya, Japan. His father was a violin manufacturer, and Shinichi and his siblings worked in the factory during the years of their youth. Even so, he did not actually play a violin until he was 16 years old, teaching himself so as to duplicate the sounds of Mischa Elman playing Shubert’s “Ave Maria.”

Suzuki discovered Tolstoy’s diary in a bookstore and kept it within reach for many years. Like Tolstoy, Suzuki enjoyed observing young children.

“The children always used to come running the minute they saw me in the distance approaching home. We used to take hands and go to my house, where they all played happily together with my younger sisters and brothers.

I had learned to realize how precious children of four or five were, and wanted to become as one of them. They have no thought of self-deception. They trust people and do not doubt at all. They know how to love, and know not how to hate. They love justice, and scrupulously keep the rules. They seek joy, and live cheerfully and are full of life. They know no fear and live in security.

I played with children so that I could learn from them. I feel that this is when the seed was sown of the Talent Education movement that was to be my life’s work.” [p. 75, Nurtured by Love]

Most people think that the ability that children display is natural. They take it for granted that Japanese children speak Japanese and American children speak American English; no one seems surprised at these feats. Suzuki was! He had an amazing awakening upon realizing fully that all children speak their native tongues without difficulty. It brought him to the simple truth that any child is able to display highly superior abilities if only the correct methods are used in the early developmental years.

A child adapts to his environment; he is not born with “superior quality.” A baby can become tone deaf just as easily as it can become musically and culturally adept.

By putting a violin into the hands of a 4-year-old in his renowned Talent Education movement, Suzuki was not trying to make a world-class violinist of every student; he was trying to assure that the child would become a noble person, a happy person at home in his own skin, a person with a find and pure heart, a good citizen.

Reading this short book took me back to my first visits to Japan and reminded me to incorporate hopeful words and expectations into my everyday speech. My grandchildren hear from me such words as “brave” and “noble” and “valor” and “courage” these days.

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