Or, Spring Loaded
This week, at the time of writing, was the first day of spring. The astronomical first day, that is. The spring equinox was on the 20th of March marking the official first day in the northern hemisphere. Perhaps the most welcome season, and time to be welcoming spring into your classrooms too.
Signs pop up here and there, giving us hope that longer and warmer days await. Snowdrops are the first flowers that show themselves in my area, and daffs appear in places we forgot they were last year, giving us a perennial moment of happiness. Birds are much more vocal. Individually beautiful, but collectively at 5 a.m., it is the garden equivalent of a class of thirty, eight-year-olds on glockenspiels and recorders.
And although I am an apologetic cynic, spring is joyous and optimistic. (And for the record, I actually love music lessons where children are experimenting with sounds.) So spring is perfect for schools and learning… animals, farm visits, planting seeds, tending the school green spaces… Spring is a great time for being in school.
However, I don’t want to write about those things so much. Some wonderful books are doing these things, but I’d like to try and think about books that would also have a big impact but possibly don’t ‘fit’ in the usual way, not as an alternative, but as extras to add to the others that may already be welcoming spring into your classrooms.
Tree blossom is perhaps one of the prettiest moments of spring. I grew up on a housing estate where, for a few weeks, the trees which dot the green spaces become full with soft pinks and whites. Imagine seeing this in Japan. I’m not suggesting a residential, but a comment about another culture opens the world a little. In Lore of the Wild Folklore and Wisdom From Nature (Wide Eyed), fruiting trees have a double-spread. In the bottom right corner, two sentences give us the significance of the cherry tree in Japan.
This “sacred” tree is “beautiful, but short-lived” reminding people to “cherish each passing moment.” What a lovely piece of wisdom to pass on to children. It takes up such a small part of the book but shows that some books might be more useful to a need than the title suggests. We can find snippets everywhere. It’s a reason to read widely, but also one of the reasons librarians (cough) are so useful!
And that tiny wisdom snippet instantly made me grab another book from my shelves – Maia and What Matters (Book Island). In this stunning picture book, the cherry tree is a symbol of life and happiness. Maia was born under the tree, and along with her grandmother, much fun is had climbing and swinging from it. However, we are reminded of how important it is to cherish these moments. During which you feel life will go on forever. Only to realise how fleeting they were once they were over.
Colour is especially significant in spring. And probably a time when they are most appreciated too. Spring makes me think of the colour yellow instantly. Largely down to daffs, chicks, and various marketing departments. But green must surely be the most ubiquitous colour we enjoy this time of year. The marketing department of environmental causes got in early to stake its claim here, but green, as featured in the Italian book Green (Welbeck), has been a sign of “life, fertility, and abundance since the dawn of time.” Ancient societies associated it with “strength, life, spring, and virtue”. Even though some of these meanings have been lost, we can still see them in artworks.
Creativity and spring go hand-in-hand: newness, freshness, expression, creation. Green is an art book in a series, each about a different colour. Observing how artists depict spring can give an insight into what it means to others. Although not included in Green, David Hockney’s collection The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 is very green and clearly shows what spring means to him. There is book available of this collection, and although not a children’s edition, it might be worth checking out.
In Green, the reader learns about the symbolism of the colour in paintings too. Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Marriage depicts a newly married couple. The lady is wearing a green dress, which is elegant in colour and shape “reminding us of a spring meadow about to bloom, just like [the] love of this couple.”
“There is perhaps no season that has inspired as many writers to pick up their pens (or quills) as spring” says the introduction to A Poem For Every Spring Day. A great teacher in possession of a great poem will be remembered (apologies if I’ve taken that from somewhere. Sincerely unintentional). I’d also argue a great poem is more inspiring than the thing that inspired that poem in the first place. There’s a mind-blowing paradox there somewhere.
Sometimes it’s tempting to skip over the introductions to anthologies, but in this case, please don’t. For some writers, spring is about “loss and death” rather than the “new-life, growth and vigour” we’re always told it does represent. Other viewpoints and interpretations are vital for learning to think independently. For some poets, spring reminds them of “past youth, now only accessible through nostalgic reminiscence.” Poet Edward Thomas wrote, “Spring’s here, winter’s not gone”, the final line of his poem ‘But These Things Also’ written in 1915. Spring should be a time of beauty, but war – any war – leaves devastation in its wake.
There is also plenty of optimism, hope and happiness in the book. The poems also celebrate events that take place at this time. The Hindu festival of Holi marks the “triumph of good (spring) over evil (winter)” – so we’ve arrived back to colour again. The poem ‘Holi’ by Chrissie Gittins perfectly gives us the image of festival goers covered in coloured powder. A few sentences giving context introduce each poem. Welcoming spring into your classrooms through poetry is more than flowers and new life.
One of the most famous representations of spring is the piece of music which makes up part of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. The Story Orchestra: Four Seasons in One Day (Frances Lincoln) is a sound book which plays short clips when the reader presses a button. Isabelle wakes up to the ‘Dawn Chorus’: uplifting and promise-filled. But with spring, also comes rain, and the clouds gather with fast violins of changing pitch that bring the illustrations and story to life. Rain always passes, though, and blue skies return with fresh air. People laugh and dance, and flowers bloom. It’s the peak of what spring means to those who have had to endure a harsh winter. The music is gentle, lilting and airy. Thus concludes the spring quarter of the text.
Music adds a whole other dimension to how we experience the world and life in general. As does poetry, painting and folklore. Stereotypes are largely unavoidable – partly because there is some truth to them – but they aren’t the truth for everyone/everything. The experience of spring can be different for each of us, and the expression of that is influenced by personal circumstances, culture, and environment. For me, the clocks went forward this morning. It’s very wet outside. I’m cold. MPs on the TV are spinning excuses and explanations for how bad things are. But welcoming spring into our classrooms, and lives, can make all the difference.
The uninvited, but not unwelcome, daffodil growing through the gravel up against my flat reminds me of the ups, downs, and cyclical nature of the world. I wasn’t expecting to have an emotional time writing this post, but I guess that’s what happens when you mix in personal circumstances, culture, environment and art.