A little over a month ago a child came to me with a book, asking me to read it. I saw that it was an illustrated copy of the song “What A Wonderful World” sung by Louis Armstrong. I read the book aloud to her and decided that I would take it to our afternoon gathering to share it with our entire class. The song has been one of my favorites for years and I knew it well. I decided to sing the song instead of simply read the words and found that the children were paying such close attention, some even sang along with me. I legitimately got goosebumps from the sheer impact of this reverent, shared experience…it was one of those unplanned and completely magical moments. I knew right then and there that this song was going to be meaningful for our class. When walking out to the yard after lunch I noticed our chef, Sean, was playing the song on his guitar because he had heard us singing it. He is always tuned in to what we are singing with kids and does his best to join in when he’s not too busy in the kitchen. When I went on break we crossed paths again and he said to me “so when are we doing this!?!” I knew instantly that he meant he wanted to come accompany the song at the next meeting. “Tuesday!” I replied, telling him “I think this is going to turn into something special.”
So on Tuesday we sang the song again at Afternoon Gathering, this time with Sean on guitar and it was lovely. The children sang with such delicate voices. They were curious about Louis Armstrong and his trumpet too, and laughed hysterically when I did my best impression of his unique singing voice. They seemed so enthusiastic and inquisitive about the lyrics of the song, wanting to know what certain words (like sacred) meant. It was clear that their captivation would be sustained, that their minds and hearts appreciated the timelessness of the song somehow. There is a feeling you get as a teacher when you are on the threshold of something big, you can feel the possibilities like a swelling wave in your mind, and you brace yourself to ride the wave and bend to it’s will. This was the beginning.
I committed to singing the song with children at every gathering. I came in one morning and a child who is normally very quiet, lit up when I walked in and went straight to her cubby. She had brought me a book from her house and couldn’t wait to show it to me. It was a story about a little girl who has a dream about Louis Armstrong teaching her to scat. I thanked her and told her I would read the book at our gathering if it was okay.
She agreed and I did a dry reading and had to scat on the fly (not such an easy task!) It was hilarious and silly, and the perfect book to introduce the playful singing style that Louis was so good at.
Another child would play “air trumpet” every time we sang, and I soon found out his daddy plays the trumpet at home. I was approached by another child on another day who told me “did you know when my mommy and daddy got married Louis Armstrong sang at their wedding!?” Then there was another time after we all sang together that a child simply announced “it IS beautiful.” I started hearing children singing the song independently in the yard…and I knew it was growing roots.
I began hearing stories about children singing it at home and parents being surprised and thankful that they were learning it. My own daughter (who is in my class) can “sing it without any clues about what words come next.” The song, the meaning, the melody, the nuanced dynamics all come together and elicit rich and deep thinking and feeling between us all. It is a song of innocence, reverie and beauty…but mostly a song about hope. This is a message we need to remind ourselves of and one our children need to hear now more than ever, that our world contains beauty, love, joy and grace.
Our project is ongoing…We are still singing. We are writing the words of the song down, and will hang them in the classroom once they are finished. I’m not sure where it will go next, or where their interest might lead us as a classroom community, I am ready to follow them, it’s why I show up every day. The work I do with young children and alongside other thoughtful, engaged teachers keeps me grounded, and simultaneously elated. It fuels me, and exhausts me. It pushes me to grow, and think and feel new things all the time. I am so grateful for this work. It fills me with so much hope, and I think to myself…“what a wonderful world.”