Big hugs at Birkdale

Today I met with Elizabeth prior to class to locate the Jam Bag, which is now stored in her office. As we caught up, I heard a staff member make an announcement over the residence P.A system to all mothers and children that Rainbow Songs music class would start in approximately 15 minutes. Well within 3 mins, the door burst open and familiar faces began pouring into the room. The little girl who told me she would miss me last week literally RAN into my arms and gave me a big hug which lasted for several minutes. To be honest, it was the warmest welcome I have ever experienced in an RSF environment on only the second week of class! Elizabeth looked quite moved and excused herself, and I completely understood why. She has worked very hard to create a wonderful program for the children living in the residence and it mustn’t have been easy to hear the closure of Children’s Services at Birkdale. However, today she saw FIRST HAND how her hard work is affecting the lives of the residents here and I think she was simply overwhelmed in seeing how open and resilient these children really are to new people and the experiences that come along.

I took a moment to set up my CD player, and saw that even the shyest participants from last week were talking a mile a minute, asking me TONS of questions. The shelter staff who participate week to week have quickly become my favourite people in the room because they seem to take on the task of disciplining the children when need. Not only are they are funny and talented when it comes to making animal sounds, they seem to have a profound amount of respect for each other and their residents. This affects the way in which the children engage with their own mothers, and I find the children to be very well behaved.

We sang the Hello Song and almost everyone stood up, turned around and sat back down. I asked the group “what day of the week is it?”. After much deliberation, we sang through the days of the week activity, which incorporates various aspects of both rhythm and melody. “I Wake Up Hands” continues work on these areas of music-making and so we woke up each body part one at a time. Singing about opposites is a great way to engage young children and so I asked them “what is the opposite of BIG?”, “what is opposite of UP?” and “what is the opposite of FAST?”. Using their answers, we sang Roly Poly and Hands Together, Hands Apart. Afterwards, we sang a funny animal song called Johnny Didn’t Have Any Breakfast. Each child had the opportunity to become an animal, suggesting to the group either a sound or action we could do all together. One boy who was new to class today hid his face in his hands and so I took a risk when I asked the group “what animal like to HIDE?”. One little girl yelled out TURTLES! The boy looked up in surprise and laughed, singing along on the verse. I quickly realized that no one had chosen to be a spider, so we sang The Itsy Bitsy Spider. We stood all the way up and flew around the room singing Shoo Fly. The group seemed to love exploring the space and I decided last minute to Shake Our Sillies Out taking cues from the children (yawn our sleepies, clap our sillies, stomp our sillies, stretch our strechies etc).

IOTW this week was the Darabouka. I showed them how the drum sounds when played on the floor versus when played on the lap. I enlisted the grownups help in keeping a specific beat on the floor while I played a more complex pattern on the drum. When played together at the same time, the rhythm sounds reminiscent of belly dancing, and some grownups even got up and danced around the room! It was awesome. I brought out the big bag of instruments, and with some help from the shy boy I previously mentioned, we handed out instruments to all participants. We reviewed Jamaica Farewell from last week and sang a new jam song called De-Oh. The shy boy grabbed a tambourine for himself and was very talented, playing on beat. I could see him being a teacher one day because he kept encouraging other children to play and sing as loudly as possible. It was incredible to see! After we put away the Jam Bag, I took out the parachute and took a moment to explain the rules for the first time (i.e., no pushing under the parachute). The first track was slow and so I laid down under the parachute looking up, and soon enough, all the children were underneath with me. There was lots of laughter and giggles when I instructed them to stand up and dance around during the fast track and we finished the third slow track by lying down on our bellies. Singing goodbye went really well and I got four hugs AT THE SAME TIME at the end! Overall, an amazing second week.

Danica Starts at Birkdale Residence

Today was my first day at the Birkdale Residence. I was very excited to meet Elizabeth and discuss the changes that have been taking place at Birkdale over the last couple months. Children’s Services is no longer running at Birkdale (a service originally offered to residents) and so now the space has been transformed into a Family Resource Center. The new structure runs similar to a daycare in the respect that there are programs running in the morning and afternoon with supervision, however differs in the fact that it is no longer promoted as a drop-off program. In fact, grownups are encouraged to use the space WITH their children. RSF fits perfectly into the “Rhythm and Sound” component of the new programming and the first day certainly reflected Birkdale’s efforts to engage both mother and child in a music making activity.

As participants began to enter the room, I handed out name tags and introduced myself to each mom and child individually. I couldn’t help but notice the vast range in ages (3 months – 8 years old), and started to form my lesson plan in my head by asking them questions like “What is your favourite song?” and “Do you enjoy singing?” One child pointed at my guitar and squealed saying “Look mom, its a guitar!”. As we sat down I decided to break the ice even more and ask the older children “How many strings do I have on my guitar?”. It counted the strings together I used this time to practice addressing them each individually (some of the names were tricky to pronounce) and we launched right into the Hello Song. I decided to use the 2-4 Year Old version so they could have an opportunity to stand up, turn around and sit back down with their grownup. We were very comfortable on a colourful rug with pillows so I decided to ask the group “Who had a hard time waking up today?”. Many of the grownups raised their hand and we all laughed at each other *The first laugh of the class is ALWAYS the best and establishes a connection almost immediately that reinforces the idea that the time we spend together is FUN!* Using our comfortable surroundings, we laid down and went back to sleep only to rewake up all over again.

Earlier in the week, I attended a workshop at the University of Toronto for the Early Childhood Music Association and one idea that was reiterated over and over again was that allowing children to engage using their own ideas is important to creating a positive environment. So even though it was the first day, I asked many questions throughout the 40 minute class. For example, after waking up all of our body parts I asked “What is white and cold and on the ground outside today?”. Even though this is a very simple question for a grownup, allowing a child to answer and engage allows them to feel part of the musical narrative. We sang a winter version of the Itsy Bitsy Spider (along with the other three verses) and when one grownup said “Oh I wish I was somewhere HOT”, I said “Let’s GO!” and we sang through a song called Some Like It Hot. I knew immediately that this group was probably the most advanced shelter group I’ve yet to work with and it was VERY exciting to hear participants singing loudly AND in harmony! I was totally blown away and I think everyone felt quite proud of themselves when we were able to divide the group in two and sing alternating melodies. I kept rolling with this idea that they would “feed” me the next song and so as we got our bodies moving to the uptempo beat of Some Like It Hot, I thought “why not dance?”.

Standing we sang the Hokey Pokey and it was fun to see that most children had little inhibitions about dancing in front of one another. We continued this narrative of being somewhere warm and hot by hopping on a train (I’ve Been Working On The Railroad) and arriving in Puerto Rico where I introduced the IOTW (Maracas). I instructed them on how to shake using a flick of the wrist, reciting Shake It Baby Shake It and gradually passed around the two maracas I was able to find scattered amongst the toys. I was also able to find a drum and some body bells and so we jammed to Jamaica Farewell to conclude the class. It was amazing! We definitely attracted some attention from the other workers at Birkdale who popped in to sing with us towards the end and swear I could feel it in my bones that this was going to be a special place to spend some time over the next couple of weeks. I have said before and I will say it again: this is the best part of the job…knowing that I have made people happy! As I left one girl who sat beside me the entire morning said “I am going to miss you!”. I was delighted to be able to say “I will miss you too! But I will be back next week!”. Until then…