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The Heart Rules!

At HeartGarden we believe:  


Love is at the root of all learning.


All who are nourished in love and encouraged to create grow to bless life.

Below is a talk given by Ms. Amy on February 8, 2017


I Hope You Dance  Ms. Ana sings song.  Kim Bernat on backup vocals.


Ms. Ana and Ms. Kim Bernat, thank you for the gift of your music.  Is it any wonder this song is making history?   "I Hope You Dance" has inspired people to pursue their dreams, overcome obstacles, and persist in the face of adversity.  I encourage you to discover the story by watching this powerful documentary. I Hope You Dance  The Power and Spirit of Song. 


If one song can uplift and empower as it engages and entertains, imagine what  a whole childhood of songs, dances, music making, storytelling, and poetry can do for the upbuilding and transforming of children and their parents?  


A wise soul once said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” 


Do we have a glorious vision for our children’s future?


What if we believed we could have breakthroughs and advancements in human goodness and wisdom at the same awesome pace we do in science and technology?


What if we  believed that the superstructure of the universe, the source of all life, is a generous outflowing of love and wisdom and that the purpose of life is to grow, re-new, and unfold in a pattern of loving relationships and creative usefulness? What if the glory of God is human beings coming fully alive in love?


What if we knew we had the pathways,  tools, and master strategies to transform our problems into courage, creativity, and contribution?  


What if we had a cultural expectation of careful and great training of parents and children based on bonafide, wise, and powerful best practices?


We have Head Start for children.  Why can’t we have Heart Start for parents and children where the cultivation of the heart virtues are uppermost?


Why not conceive of the highest doable reality possible and work to make it happen?


Here is our marvelous good news vision: Parent/child partnership learning grounded in heart-based values and implemented through early childhood music and movement education can bless the world!   Think of it - the moving power of music, dance, storytelling and poetry is love and creativity.  The arts flow between us and connect, enliven, and empower us.  Purpose and passion in life comes from what we learn and do for love’s sake.


Heart values are tied to our human greatness. They represent all of the positive human qualities.  Let’s call out the attitudes of the heart, shall we? Integrity, kindness, truthfulness, faithfulness, trust, courage, appreciation, forgiveness, grit, self-control, peace, self-sacrifice.  These are the human qualities that enliven and build up our lives, giving them significance and beauty. If there is one aspect of our humanity crying out for a revival it is our admiration and our practice of the heart values.


Every good story has a problem, a wicked witch, an enemy force, and obstacles and adversity to overcome.  Surely we can call out a host of problems, scary beliefs, and obstacles facing parents and children these days.  But what if most of these problems are the means by which we get in touch with our greatness and our significance?  What if instead of being afraid and anxious, we take the view that these troubles are the way we build new capacities and strengths? 


Now there is one problem that is not always waking us up to our greatness.  It’s as if we are under a spell and we can’t see that there is a problem-in-the-making. 


A story by Anthony de Mello will help me illustrate this. "Once upon a time a man found an eagle's egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.


Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat on his strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked. "That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his neighbor. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth - we're chickens." So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was."


Why, who was guarding and tending to that chicken coop?  Why ever did they not notice that odd little birdie was not a chicken but an eagle!!??   An eagle requires an eagle’s training and encouragement if he is to take wing to soar into his high purpose in life!!  


Now we don't have a barnyard full of chickens we look after. We have our glorious children. They are not eagles-in-the-making, they are angels-in-the-making!  How many of our little ones are plopped into a non-living world of computers and tell-lie-visions?  As much as our computers and smart phones are useful tools, when we do not monitor them and use them with care, they can undermine our humanity. If we heed the statistics, the astronomical rise in depression, suicide rates, and dependence on drugs among our youth, all skyrocketing since the advent of the smart phones, we will take greater care with when and how we allow our children to use these devices.  


What pathways do we set for our children?  

Is it the pathway of children being raised to be consumers, each-chick-for-himself, cooped up in his or her own machine barn bubble?  Me, Inc?


Or is it the pathway of the children being nurtured to be creators,  little angels in real-life-in-person relationships taking wing to create and to love?  Love, Inc?  

You can be sure that the controllers and distributors of media don’t have an innocent agenda for your child.  Let them be consumers!! Let them be afraid!!  might be their motto.  “Let them feel they are never good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, cool enough, famous enough.”  We see Me, Inc. everywhere in evidence today, wreaking its havoc.  


The other way, the path of loving connection, is real LIFE, active, and engaged.  This way requires generous, careful, and whole-being training. Our motto for our children: Let them be creators!! 




Wisdom teaches: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow!”


I love how our parents at HeartGarden encourage their children to be creators from the get-go, little angels with great inner-go, all fired up to dance, make music, improvise, tell stories, create, recite poetry, explore in nature, and to grow, grow, grow along positive, meaningful, and useful lines. 


We are writing history in our homes and schools as we parent and teach our children. 


Our children begin life and a story is begun. 


Do you know what children love with great passion?  They love stories, especially stories that touch on their life experiences - their struggles, fears, and desires.   Of all stories, what is a child's favorite story?  The story of who they were as babies and wee children. Nothing delights a child more than their sweet-coming-to-be-and-to-grow-into-Laura-or-Maria-or-Beky-or-Ana story.  It is unique and special. Best of all, children love to know they were cherished and made to feel special. They love our tough stories, too - how we overcame our obstacles, fears, and set-backs. When my children were little, there was no better way to reassure them then to tell a story of when mommy or daddy was scared, hurt, or made a mistake.  They loved to hear how we found a way out of no way. “Let me tell you the story….."  One time when we did not have a story our daughter Eleni came to our rescue.  Our Ana (yes, your beloved Ms. Ana) was beside herself with grief, wailing that she wasn't a baby anymore; she wanted to be a baby and nurse and nestle in my arms.  A baby!! She was 3 at the time.  Nothing I did gave her comfort, not rocking, singing, tickling - nothing!! I'm not exaggerating: she cried for hours on end. Exhausted, I gave up and put Ana in her big sister’s bed.  Eleni was 4 years old at the time. Eleni stroked her sister and asked,  "Ana, shall I tell you a story?  Will that make you feel better?"  Ana wimpered and nodded. "Yes, please."   Eleni told her 4 year old version of Sleeping Beauty.  She had the "most boooootiful godmothers who wore the most booooootiful gowns of yellow and red and blue...."   Her simple story was told with such tenderness and love.   Ana listened and her unhappy sobs gave way to grateful adoration. Eleni's story touched her to the heart and gave her the peace of mind she needed. My husband and I listened outside their bedroom, our hearts dumbfounded with gratitude. Is there any greater happiness than witnessing the love our children share, one with the other?   Can you tell this is an origin story we love to tell our girls?


Do you remember stories your parents and grandparents told you about you?  If you were nurtured in a loving home, however imperfect, you are blessed to have these stories.  Let’s do a pair or trio share. Turn to one another and share one of your this-is-how-I-knew-I-was-special stories.  Does anyone wish to share the story of their neighbor? 


I love to think that HeartGarden is partnering with you to encourage the most beautiful and blessed of origin stories for your children.  


When my husband and I began our parenting journey, we were so young, naive, and poor; we had few understandings of best practices in child nurturing.  To be sure, our hearts were set ablaze to be the best parents possible. If only we had this gift of a HeartGarden parent/child education, how much more happiness, lightness, and grace we might have en-joyed! 


We always sang to our daughters.  We loved to tell stories, dance, make art, and explore in nature. We don't wonder that our daughters all grew up to love the arts and to love to be a blessing in life. 


Does it ever happen to you, you get a strong conviction and a passionate interest and suddenly everywhere you look you find stories,  people, and circumstances tailor made to encourage your work and help you along? This is what is happening to me. There are experts everywhere, whether in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and education, all coming to the same conclusion: nothing matters more than the child’s first years of life and nothing matters more than a child’s loving attachment to their parents.  Our intimate and caring relationship with our parents, or lack thereof, is the greatest shaping force in our life.


I wore pearls tonight on purpose.   One of my favorite quotes is a Hasidic verse. “Rake the muck this way.  Rake the muck that way, it still remains muck. In the time I am brooding over it, I could be stringing pearls for the delight of heaven.”   With every song, lap ride, game, story, poem, and dance we string pearls to the delight of you and your children and heaven. Pearls remind me of someone I admire: Julia Child.  Do you remember how she loved to wear pearls? Did you know that Julia proof tested each of her recipes three times before she felt it worthy of making it into her cookbook: Mastering the Art of French Cooking?  Operational proof!   Julia was a great collaborator.  To achieve her masterpiece she partnered with two other women.  The power of three. At our studio we have the power of three: The teacher, the parent, and the child form a powerful trio as we partner together every week in class.  Like Julia, we have a heart to proof test, not with food, but the nourishment of this music education we share with you and your children.   


One of the reasons we gathered you here tonight is to invite you to collaborate with us, to proof test the work we do here.  Each of you has received a journal. We invite you to keep a record of your musical journey with your children. How do the activities and tools serve your high purpose of nourishing the heart, mind, and soul of your children?  How do the activities encourage loving connection between you and your children and this community? Do they inspire growth, vibrancy, and build capacities and positive pathways? Do these practices cultivate confidence, creativity, and compassion in you and your children?  Do they help with self-regulation and impulse control?  



Tonight you get to join the dance.  You did not sign up for HeartGarden to sit on the sidelines and be a consumer, did you?  Ours is a get-into-the-arena-and-experience-life-and-make-it-happen education!! We are a See, Hear & Do School. Remember the primary driver of development in our brains and our hearts is our behavior.  A child’s whole body is a learning and feeling center, not just their brains. 



We are going to sing and dance to Simple Gifts.    I love to tell the story of when I first heard this song.  It’s how I knew Oak Park was home-sweet-home for our family. We had just moved here from Pasadena.  Here’s how rough we had it in L.A. public schools. Two weeks into the first grade, our oldest daughter Eleni had a meltdown before going to school. To tell the story properly you need to know that Eleni’s favorite movie at the time was Sound of Music -  but with a hitch. She always made us fast forward the scary part when the Nazis arrive on the scene.  On the morning of the meltdown Eleni burst into tears. It was an awful wail-at-the-top-of-her voice  I-am-not-to going-to school-please-don’t-make-me-or-I’ll-die lamentation. We had never seen the like of this. Eleni was beyond pacifying and we were at a total loss.  But then she got very quiet. In her hoarse weary voice, little sobs rumbling her body, she spoke the saddest words we ever heard. “Please don't make me go to school. I hate school so much I’d rather stay home and watch Nazis on T.V.”  Woah!!! That was it. The proverbial straw that broke the camels back. The hand of God was on our family and by a miracle we were in Oak Park within 6 weeks. Only two weeks into school at Longfellow Elementary and our children were happy and in love with school and life. I was with  Ana outside her kindergarten classroom.  Twenty five boisterous and chattering children were lined up for the morning. In a twinkling their teacher, Ms. Reid, brought them to bright attention and joyful union as she led them in singing "Simple Gifts".  Children in harmony and tunefulness singing a song so full of beauty and wisdom. The wonder of it!


This Shaker tune captures the wisdom at the heart-center of Musikgarten’s education.  Let’s sing together: 

*Simple Gifts on the screen. 



(Teachers will sing, “Let’s make a circle nice and round. Let’s join hands and join our hearts.” Everyone sings and dances.).




By participating in HeartGarden's education, you and your child will enjoy three everlasting gifts. These gifts are foundational to our love-in-wisdom-works vision.



1.    The Gift of Loving Connection and a Sense of Deep Belonging.  We will share a full-bodied and participatory dance of love.  We will practice and experience loving connection through vibrant relationships established in the context of joyful, creative community centered on best practices.  When we train in music we are training in sensitivity to oneself and to others. Our affections, minds, bodies, voices, and listening become more ordered, finely-tuned, and beautiful. Not only our moods can soar when we participate in music making, but our whole beings become larger and more refined when we unite with others.  Art does that to us - it expands and unites us as it fulfills and enriches. 


2.    The Gift of individuality as a blessing.  Our individual autonomy and and our freedom to grow along unique and special pathways matters.  We will celebrate the importance of individuality as fulfilled through creative expressions of composing, choreographing, storytelling, musical, and poetical self-expression.  We love discovering and honoring your child’s unique voice and giftedness in the context of an art-making community. Remember: Your children’s hearts, minds, and bodies are their instruments; the piano is but an amplifier of their creativity.  As Suzuki said, “The piano has no soul; it sings by the heart of the child.” Children fulfill their potential when they use their gifts to serve the common good. Team work makes the dream work is our favorite saying at Musikgarten.

3.    Getting into the arena to facilitate competence and confidence.   Did you know that success is more closely correlated with confidence than it is with talent?  Children who have a strong feeling of belonging, a deep conviction that they matter and are worthy, have confident, courageous hearts. Maya Angelou said it perfectly, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”  Courage comes from the Latin Coeur The word for heart!! Here at Musikgarten we take a positive view of struggle and problems. I read once that “It is not our struggles that defeat us, it is our failure to struggle that deplete the human spirit.” We are empowering children to be creators from the get-go. It is said, “Being free is nothing. Becoming free is everything.”    At HeartGarden we nurture a growth mindset through our comprehensive music learning sequence.  Music and movement tap into the circuitry which helps drive your children’s motivation and develop their will-capacities. We will be using tools, strategies, and understandings that give your children vigor and a willingness to step out of our comfort zones in order to create and to act meaningfully.  Encouraging their creativity helps them to be problem-solvers, not problem avoiders.

“To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor.”   Samuel Johnson wrote: “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor.” What better way to be happy at home than helping children and parents fall endlessly in love with one another as they cultivate and share a love for the arts. Joy in love sings!!   


In your journal you will find 7 hearts.   We know your homes are loving; we simply wish to encourage you to incorporate what I think of as love cups and love buttons from our Musikgarten curriculum, too.  How wonderful to establish a simple daily goal of sharing love and dropping a little sunshine into the hearts of your children.   There is no shortage of songs, dances, stories, and poems to enlist our enthusiastic participation. Enthusiasm is key! Enthusiasm gives the activity warmth, stimulation and added value.  Think of it, your heart is beating more strongly, more joyfully if you bring your enthusiasm. The Greeks gave us the word enthusiasm. It means the divine within.


A Grateful Heart

A capacity for active gratitude is one of the greatest gifts we give our children.   Gratitude creates the condition in which our spirits can soar. I read once that we prove our greatness by our power to see causes for thankfulness in life. Our power!!  That is the operative word. Gratitude causes hidden strengths within us to spring up; it puts us in the life-flow and vitalizes us, giving us wings and momentum. Think of gratitude not as a sentiment but as a powerful motivating force.  




Share a blessing before each meal. Does your family own a blessing bowl?  Let your child be the designated bell-ringer. Add an essential oil to sweeten the moment and help imprint the beauty and fragrance of gratitude in their soul.  Let this blessing be rich with golden silence and deep breathing.  




Greet each morning with loving tickles, a wake-up song, or a poem.   




Each day we need time for release.  Let there be exuberant dancing as you and your child abandon yourself to the exhilaration of movement.  Feel the pure sensations of spinning, falling, bounding, swinging, leaping, floating. 



Enjoy  lap rides  at least twice a day.  These whole body joy-rides work like a charm to overturn bad moods.  There are the babies and toddlers who go from crying fits to happy laughter when bounced to a lap ride like Finnigin Beginigin. Finnigin beginigin… more like Grin-agin begin-agin!!  You get loving touch, eye contact, exercise, and laughter to the heavens. 




Patterns and rituals of every kind hold the attention of children.  Every HeartGarden lesson will include patterns. Take time each day to share tonal and rhythm patterns. Children love echoing patterns.  You help them develop confidence in being self-expressed.  




Sing often. Singing makes us feel uplifted. The act of singing pours into our bodies, refreshing them with dopamine and other positive hormones.  Singing also enhances the quality of our attention. To facilitate teamwork and cooperation, sing through transitions, chores, & errands.  




A let’s clean up or cook together song motivates teamwork! Did you know that research shows that if the children help with cooking they will have a broader palette and a bigger appetite for varieties of food?  When children cook they enjoy the food more! The enjoyment comes from the meaningful participation. Children love to help if we enlist their teamwork in a joyful way.  Music does this!!



G.K. Chesterton hit it on the nail when he said, “Angels can fly because they know how to take themselves lightly.”  Do you know how you will you take yourselves more lightly? Sing through you and your child’s troubles!! I mean it.  You know how Duke Ellington solved his bad moods? He said, “I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.”



Play is exploration, discovery, and full engagement.  Make time for unstructured imaginative play. 




Share an I Love You Ritual before you take your leave from your child and when you return to them. These poetic utterances, inspired by the work of Becky Bailey, are rhythmic, poetical love touches.  Your children will carry these forever in their hearts. Not to mention they cultivate eloquence and appreciation for poetry.  



Share a story at bedtime or before nap or on a long car ride.   We need to tell our children as many positive, character-building stories as possible, stories where they see heroes face adversity, overcome obstacles,  and fall in love, and live happily ever after. At HeartGarden we tell river stories - stories that captivate our children’s hearts, edify them, and spark excitement for the possibility of their lives.




A poem you learn together fosters eloquence.  Beautiful words that brighten the soul are more precious than jewels.  Many of our poems at Musikgarten cultivate delight in nature. Win win!  




We encourage you and your children to keep falling in love with nature.  Abundant time in nature is key to your child’s optimal and happy growth. At all levels of HeartGarden, you will enjoy the wonders of nature as we sing, tell stories, recite poetry, and encourage an active and meaningful exploration of the natural world. Plant a garden together. You will fall more in love with flowers and vegetables and fruits and herbs.   




Celebrate what you want to see more of!  In relationships that thrive, the ratio of appreciation to criticism is at least 5 to 1. 




Children who sing, recite poetry, play their instruments for a loving audience build confidence in self-expression.  Research shows this diminishes stress around social interactions and public speaking. See how this bolsters them for creative self-expression and leadership.  




Sing lullabies at bedtime.  For our family, our nighttime ritual of story, tickles and lullabies stands brightly as among our family’s happiest memories. 



The Neuroscience AND the Heart-science of Music.

Researchers put a lot of attention on the neuroscience of music, how music grows the cognitive faculties of the child.  Eureka! Let’s lift up a vision of how music fosters heart training in the virtues. If ever a pragmatic, wise, and universally doable curriculum of the heart was created, a curriculum that partners with parents to support loving and wise attachment to children, it is Musikgarten. The exciting thing about Musikgarten, not just this studio, but the curriculum that inspires and forms the basis of what we do here, is that this can be spread throughout the world.  Ours is a very special community and we are eager to put our light on a hill. Our dream come true would be to inspire a broader movement to establish parent/child partnership training in the arts and heart virtues in neighborhoods the world over. We can become a little lab school. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see academic researchers powerfully highlight this work and affirm the incredible value of what we do here?   


Now recall what I said earlier: Golden Character. Layering on the golden character education is a new initiative. This is where your help comes in as you are the ones on the frontline nurturing your children each and every day. Your journals are for your family and personal to you. But we invite you to share your stories. They will guide us as we put together a manual that we hope inspires teachers and parents to deepen into the heart virtues. How do you like this title for the book?:  The Heart RULES! The Art and Science of Heartful Parenting. Partnering With Parents to Nourish the Heart, Mind, and Soul of the Child



HeartGarden’s teachers and parents can inspire a movement to value the development of our children’s hearts the way we value their growth in knowledge, basic skills, and athletics.  We have what it takes!! 


I once read a story about a woman who yearned to know if heaven exists. Here is my HeartGarden version.  “Once upon a time a woman asked God, "Grant me in this lifetime a vision of heaven.” One night she had a dream and in the dream an angel took her by the hand and led her to heaven. Together they walked down a street in paradise until they came to an ordinary house. The angel pointed and said, “Go and look inside." The woman saw the father preparing a meal, a child playing the piano, the mother singing at her side, another child singing and dancing to the music with scarves.  The woman was disappointed. “Is that all there is to heaven?" The angel replied, “The family you saw in that house are not in heaven, heaven is in them.”  


My wish for you:  Keep establishing your family identity in love, creativity, and gratitude. May you joy in making your homes little oasis of love. May you go home trusting in the significance, power, and the usefulness of the curriculum we set before you.  If you believe from your heart and your mind, you will act on it. When you internalize these heart gifts, how wonderful it will be for you each morning. You will wake up and wonder,  “What love-gifts will I share with my family today?” When your head hits the pillow at night you will smile, ”How many love-gifts we shared today!” 


On a church in Sussex England, there is an inscription: 


We have a vision and a task for our children and parents.  

Parent/child partnership learning grounded in heartful virtues and implemented through early childhood music is hope for the world.