Enriching the experience of early childhood learners
In the dimly lit room, everyone sat in a circle. A small lantern at the center of the circle illuminated the faces of the children and their guests. It evoked the image of a small gathering of people around a campfire in the woods at night. Sitting around the campfire were children, parents, and teachers from the Children’s House program, who were all taking part in a special class with music teacher Steve Pixley.
Mr. Pixley started strumming his guitar, singing the song Nocturnal by Billy Jonas.
Hey, hey, middle of the night
Hey, hey, everything’s alright
Hey, hey, what’s that sound?
Nocturnal animals coming ’round…
Over by the door, I heard my brother SNORE
And over the roof, I hear a WOLF
And over by the bog, I hear those FROGS
And over by the lake, I hear those SNAKES
And over by the thicket, I hear those CRICKETS
This was just one of the activities included in this music-filled morning. As I watched each of the different activities unfold, I was struck by how valuable this experience was. Parents and their children were having fun together. What a great experience for children to have their parents sing silly songs with them, along with the whole class. Some songs facilitated movement (students and parents made motions and sounds for each animal). Some songs provided access to the curriculum — such as learning about nocturnal animals. The musical activities were sensorial and connected head, heart, and hands, which is a key differentiator of an Oak Meadow education. In one activity, students counted out the rhythm of musical notes by walking along the notes lined up on the floor. “Ta, te te, taaaaa, takadimi, triple te, ta.” This was a deeply immersive musical education experience for the students and parents.
I couldn’t help but think about the quality of the teaching faculty at Oak Meadow. In addition to the highly qualified program-level teachers,children have the opportunity to work with highly trained educational specialists in music, drama, Spanish, physical education, STEM, and nature studies. The qualifications of these educators are impressive, and they enjoy working with the youngest children as much as with middle schoolers. Even for the youngest children at Oak Meadow, we are a school, in all that term implies, and that means a quality and enriching experience that parents will never find in day care programs.
I asked Mr. Pixley to share his goals for the morning’s musical activity. Here is what he shared with me:
“The Children’s House Music curriculum emphasizes group singing, coordinated movement, rhythmic training, individual confidence, and improvisational play. Classes incorporate songs, dances and musical games from many traditions. Students learn to match pitch, repeat sequences of intervals using solfege syllables, improve hand-eye coordination, increase musical memory skills, and read and write rhythmic patterns using standard music notation. Instruments from around the world are introduced in hands-on discussions about instrument construction materials and their sound differences. Recent highlights have included a French horn, a Swiss cow bell, an Andean water whistle, an Israeli ram’s horn trumpet, and a Balinese gong. Students also enjoy singing together at weekly morning assemblies, and even performing for the whole school once or twice a year.”