“The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.”
~ Elliot W. Eisner
Now that 2013 has come and gone, I find myself reflecting on the different ways that I shared arts experiences in my kindergarten classroom. From January until June, I delivered weekly music circles to the children, which allowed me to develop an appropriate music curriculum. I learned that with a manageable class size, a great deal is possible. In September, I had a new start at a different school, which presented me with the challenge of working with a significantly higher number of children. Planned music circles did not seem possible, though I found that it worked better to use a ‘concert’ format. While the children did not participate in ways that were as hands-on as I would like, it was still a way for large numbers of children to have these experiences. I truly like finding creative solutions to such problems and doing what I can to make things happen when I believe they are important.
At the beginning of the school year I brought my guitar to school. I had to remove a thick layer of dust from the case, a testament to how little it had been played in the past several years. (When I still worked in child care, it had become an annual tradition to bring out the guitar and play festive tunes like Jingle Bell Rock at the holiday party for our families. This is such a long time ago now, but those times always conjure up fond memories). So in September, it felt good to tune my guitar and leaf through my children’s song books to select some that I was sure everyone would know – BINGO, Old MacDonald, The Wheels on the Bus, If You’re Happy and You Know It, Eensy Weensy Spider and Where is Thumbkin? And I was right. Most of the children knew these, and enthusiastically joined in. Some of the songs allowed children to contribute ideas, make sounds and do actions. We could even sing Eensy Weensy Spider using American Sign Language! This first concert was a very positive experience, and made me feel much more confident about sharing music experiences with larger groups.
In October, Thanksgiving and Halloween presented opportunities to share both songs and storytelling with the children. In my post about Friendship Soup (http://earlychildhoodartsconnection.ca/?p=465) you can read about what happened in the classroom at Thanksgiving. For Halloween I decided to do a storytelling event. I dressed up as a witch and sang the text of the story Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman. This was one that the children at my old day care really loved. The book came with a cassette that they enjoyed playing again and again. I really loved hearing them join in singing the words and taking on the voices of each of the different characters, beginning to learn it by heart. Storytelling and dramatizing make a story come to life and let children get more fully engaged in ways that only reading cannot. It brings a different level of meaning to the literacy experience. The children were able to join the witch and her friends in trying to remove an enormous pumpkin from the vine, pretending to reach for it, grasp and pull with all their strength! And those who wanted only to watch and listen could do that too.
The final event in mid-December was a concert I organized with the itinerant music teacher at my school. This involved bringing together the gifted students learning to play soprano recorder, with some members of associations for recorder players, to perform for the kindergarten classes at my school. Though this required getting special permissions, and a lot of work and co-ordinating people, it was well worth the effort. This was a magical experience, because it brought different age groups together – seniors, elementary students and young kindergarten children. It allowed the youngest children there to have a glimpse of the music education that awaited them, the elementary children to demonstrate their growing skills, and all the children to listen to and play along with adult learners who share their love of early music. Making the concert happen spoke to the importance of arts education, and the role of itinerant music teachers, and proved that great things can happen when people collaborate, and share a will to provide children with quality experiences as part of their education in the arts. I owe a lot of people gratitude for permitting the concert to happen, for organizing the event, for participating, for attending, and simply for showing their support. The concert meant a great deal to me and I believe it was an experience that could become a model for similar experiences in the future, not just at my school but also at others.
This past year has given me a lot of challenges, but also a lot of hope, and an even stronger vision of the kinds of arts experiences for children that are possible, and that I would like to help make happen. I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2014, and New Year full of creative inspiration!