Following Yonder Star

When I was studying piano, lo those many years ago, my teacher wrote my lesson in a spiral notebook each week. She would list the things I was to practice (Major scales, two octaves, hands together, Czerny Number 5, with metronome 120, Mozart Sonata in G Major, First Movement…) and sometimes put notations about specific areas to focus on in my practice time (Dynamics in the Mozart, even tempo for the 16th notes in the Czerny, so slow down if you need to!) 

Gold star on notebookShe kept a box of little gold stars at the side of the piano, an at the end of the lesson each week (if my performance rated it) she would place a gold adhesive star on the notebook page for that week’s lesson.

People, I craved those gold stars SO much. To the very last lesson I took from her (when I was 19 years old and engaged to be married!) I still sat with bated breath on that piano bench wondering if she would nonchalantly reach into the box, pluck out a gold star, touch it to the tip of her tongue and place it on my notebook. (She did.)

My husband, who was also one of her students, has said the same thing. That tiny mark of approbation, usually given with no other fanfare than a satisfied nod of her perfectly coiffed hair, was worth a million dollars.

I still think most people (especially children) respond better to positive reinforcement than negative consequences. One of the most successful strategies I ever used to get my son to clean up his room was the ribbon reward system. Each night I “inspected” his room, and if it passed muster, he got a ribbon. At the end of the week, if he had seven ribbons, he was allowed to pick a prize. The prizes weren’t “things,” but certificates he could cash in for a trip to the arcade, or for staying up an hour past bedtime, or a game of Candyland. This worked to help him get in the habit of picking up his toys and see that there were positive rewards for cleanliness! (Well, it worked until he was a teenager, and then all bets were off in the room cleaning department.)

In that same way, my piano teachers little gold stars gave me the extra impetus to practice my lesson each week. The star meant I had pleased her, and because I respected her, I wanted very much to earn her affirmation.

As grown ups, we don’t get a lot of gold stars. More often than not, we only hear about the stuff we do wrong. Deep down inside, I think most of us are still tender hearted enough to need a little soul-stroking once in a while, even if it’s for something as simple as preparing a meal or remembering to take out the trash without being reminded.

It’s the little gold stars that give us the impetus to keep going, even when the going is difficult and we think we’ll never make it through.

Here’s hoping someone puts one on your spiral notebook today.

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12 thoughts on “Following Yonder Star

  1. Becca, I love this post. Did we have the same piano teacher? For I, too, loved the touch of a star to the tongue before it was placed on my music. Even as a college student, I wanted my education professor to mark my papers with stickers. At the age of 20-something! I think this stems to the way that I, personally, am a Words of Affirmation girl. Have you read Gary Smalley’s book The Five Languages of Love? (I think he’s the author!) Turns out my husband is a Time Together guy (sigh, I mostly want to read ;), while I’ll do pretty much anything for praise. As you mention in your post, building one another up is most necessary. (You always do that for me when you leave a comment on my blog.)

    • Thanks, Bellezza, I’m glad this post resonated with you. I don’t know what got me thinking about the gold stars yesterday…just felt the need to be reminded of that good feeling, I guess :)

      Thinking of you a lot this month, as I know there are some big changes in your family. Wishing you peace…

  2. Becca, Here are ten gold stars for you for being such a great writer!**********. I get gold stars sometimes from my acupuncturist for taking good care of myself. I love it!

    • Awww, thanks! I gratefully accept. And I’m glad to hear you’re taking care of yourself – I think I’ll start giving myself gold stars on the morning I work out! lol

  3. I had forgotten about the gold stars. Oh I remember them well and how I too wanted them on all my papers. Such a little thing that has such a big impact. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. And – I agree – you get ten gold stars for your writing.

  4. Isn’t it funny? I don’t remember why I got my stars, but I remember the stars themselves – red, green, blue, silver and gold. They were embossed, and had to be licked, and I remember the taste of the glue.

    The good news is that, as adults, we don’t have to wait for someone else to paste a star in our notebook. We can do it ourselves! It’s nice to have someone else paste a star, but sometimes there’s no one around, and sometimes other people just don’t understand how deserving we are!

    It’s an interesting thought to ponder: if we were going to give ourselves a gold star or two, what have we done that deserves those stars?

    • I was just thinking about that – I think I’ll buy myself some gold stars and put them on my calendar when I’ve made my writing goals for the day, or done my workout, or eaten my fish and broccoli! lol

  5. I still crave gold stars! If someone says something nice, it makes my day — and it makes me want to be a little better. I’m reading your comments — I think you SHOULD buy yourself some gold stars. I think I should, too!

  6. Love this post! I think we had the same piano teacher. I still do this with my calendar and exercise. If I exercise, I give myself a smiley face sticker. Sounds silly but works like a charm for me!

    • I really think I’m going to do this too, especially with exercise. I already write down in my planner what I’ve done, so it would be easy to add a sticker to it. Besides, that gives me a good reason to buy cute stickers, which I love :)

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