I was very excited to begin my session at Redwood Shelther, and so I arrived at Redwood Shelther approximately 20 minutes before class. After a quick meet and greet with both RSF co-ordinator Amelia and shelter co-ordinator Ngasseu, I was introduced to 4 volunteers who spend Monday evenings at the shelter participating in the various children’s programs. Ngassue slowly gathered the children (5 in total) and we began class about 10 minutes late. As soon as we began, I realized that one problem which had been previously discussed in an email was still present: the majority of parents were NOT in attendance. There was only one parent who participated for the entire class, and while the volunteers were amazing, there is clearly a disconnect in regards to the rules regarding parental attendance. Seeing as I had already begun, I decided to bring this issue up with Ngasseu and RSF at another time. We started singing the Hello Song and due to the relatively small number of children in attendance, I decided to sing to ALL the volunteers by name as well (this is similar to Parents Week in our sessions outside of RSF). It was a sunny day so we began by singing songs inspired by the wonderful weather (Mr. Sun, Love Grows). Body part songs were a huge hit with the young ones (I Wake Up My Hands, Where Is Thumbkin, Finger In The Air, Hands Together Hands Apart) as were songs about opposites (Roly Poly) and various animals and the sounds they make (Listen To The Water, Little Green Frog). We stood up to get some movement into our bodies and after a little persuading we launched into an RS favourite, “Zoom Zoom Zoom”! The first week of the session is a good time to introduce the Dumbek as IOTW, so we took turns making the sounds “dum” and “tek” with our hands, while passing the drum around the circle. Following IOTW, the jam is my favourite part of the class as I get a chance to see little bits of each personality shine (whether its that they find joy in sharing an instrument with a friend, or that they look for the approval of a grownup when playing an instrument correctly). After singing our cleanup song (indeed a very important song in encouraging all hands to help), I brought out the parachute for some last minute fun! Towards the end of the goodbye song I realized that I had made a special connection with an older participate, and after chatting after class, she confessed that she had never tried strumming a guitar before. I responded “there is no better time than the present!”, and so after a little convincing, I gave her a quick lesson on securing the strap, holding the pick and strumming up and down. These moments make any teacher feel like they have made a special connection, and indeed it is a wonderful feeling! Easter Monday was the following week and with no class scheduled, I was hoping that all the young participates would remember how much fun we had and return in two weeks! Until then…
When I returned to the Redwood shelter this week, I was greeted by my faithful volunteers, sitting in a circle ready to sing, and 2 new faces to the class. I decided to have an entire theme to connect each song during this class. Starting with waking up all over again (Wake Up); pretending to brush our teeth (Brush Your Teeth); making sure to count all fingers (10 Little Fingers) before cleaning all body parts (Clean-O); getting dressed (What Are You Wearing), so we could leave the house and Shut The Door behind us. After walking to the bus stop, climbing the bus steps and singing The Wheels On The Bus, we finally reached our destination otherwise known as The Grocery Store! It was fun to have a narrative and because 3 of the 4 children were over the age of 5, I was hoping it would be a little more challenging. I decided to bring a Chinese gong for IOTW, and it was really fun explaining the musical idea of “dynamics” to such an intelligent group of children! They were asking many questions like “why does this sound seem to go on FOREVER??” and “when I hit it around the OUTSIDE of the centre, it doesn’t sound the same…why??”. I LOVE questions like this! It means that they are interested. We reviewed our jam song from the previous week (Three Little Birds), and this time due to the confidence of my young singers, I fed them each line slowly before adding the melody. The parachute was a huge hit with the 2 new participants, and I even convinced them to hold and strum my guitar after class like the young girl the previous week! All in all, great connections were made between teacher and student.
There were 12 children in class today, so needless to say, it was a much different experience from last week! I started the class a bit late, relying on my 4 volunteers (and Ngasseu) to help control the large group. I noticed immediately that the average age was approximately 8 years old, and so I changed the “Hello Song” to the version we use in the older age group (We’re All Here Today). After introductions, I noticed that there were 2 boys who were clearly very bright, but capable of being extremely disruptive. After going over some rules, I launched into a series of songs that required a particular level of focus in an attempt to keep the energy flowing in a positive direction (Wake Up, 10 Little Fingers) however due to the rambunctious energy it was difficult to hold their attention. So I tried standing up and incorporating more movement (as a way of perhaps releasing some of this energy) singing songs like I’ve Been Working On The Railroad (which was a success because many of them knew the words). But by this time, some of the children had been taken to time out and I realized that the only way I could keep everyone interested would be to bring out the IOTW earlier than planned. This part of class is a wonderful way to bring excitement to the group in a different way. I told the group that they had to sit on their bums and close their eyes in order to hear the instrument. Thank goodness I brought the perfect IOTW for this energetic group: Tingshaw Bells! I rang the bells loud for all to hear. The group started giggling and many asked if they could open their eyes. I said “No! Listen closely, what does it SOUND like?” Some yelled out answers and many were correct! I told them to open their eyes so we could play a game, which consisted of each child raising their hand and holding it up until they could no longer hear the sound of the bells. Although it was a little competitive amongst the two older boys, I was encouraged by the dedicated group of listeners. As I passed the instrument around the circle, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I felt that I was finally able to make a connection with each and every child. For the jam I decided to choose songs that were familiar in order to encourage more singing (Alphabet Song, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Bah Bah Black Sheep). During the jam, I was deliberating whether or not I should bring out the parachute. Sometimes it works really well in smaller groups, while in larger groups it overstimulates the children. However, I decided that due to how well things were going, I would bring it out if the group agreed to lie down on their backs and look up at the colours. No running or jumping was allowed. Wheew, it was a success! After many requests to touch my guitar, I told them that if we sang the Goodbye Song all together, they could each have a turn strumming. Sometimes a little bribery goes a long way! We made it through the Goodbye Song in one piece and I made sure to give each and every child a chance strumming my guitar. I also made a point to ask who was returning the following week and I got a resounding “Me!” from almost everyone in the room! Sweet!