By: Marlana Williams
The first activity that happens before entering the RealKids classroom is the removal of shoes. This immediately creates an at-home and comfortable atmosphere, which continues once a student steps through the doorway and onto the foam blue floor, surrounded by brightly colored walls, toys and padded walls that are safe to run into. Teachers make sure this positive energy runs the duration of the class.
To begin class, students walk in and sit around our large gathering drum. Here we tell stories and act them out musically, play along to recordings, and say hello to each other. The classroom instructor brings out their guitar so that the children can become accustomed to the sounds and to live performances. Some walk into the class somewhat shy and nervous, but the gathering drum always seems to put them at ease.
The remainder of class varies depending upon the age group - we focus on activities that are appropriate to each child's development. This helps them achieve certain musical goals, learn musical concepts, and to have a great time. Also, through the division of age groups, we help children with various motor functions that may still need developing.
The portions of the class that remain consistent, however, are movement, solo singing, and instrument playing. In the movement activities we use many different methods, such as-playing with scarves, dancing to music, and dancing to songs that we sing acapella. In solo singing, we use props, transition activities, and fun games that help refine each student’s singing voice, introduce them to melodic intervals, and give them confidence to perform with their peers. For babies, this helps them begin to communicate and learn how to sing. Finally, our instrument playing involves different percussion instruments - hand drums, tambourines, shaker eggs, rhythmic sticks, and various others. The older class groups (ages 4-9) play on barred instruments like the xylophone. Performing songs with instruments students can succeed on helps to give them the confidence they need to play music.
I have seen the benefits of this program for so many children - some babies may talk or walk sooner; some shy children come out of their shells; children who have English as a second language are given fun and memorable activities to help them learn to recognize the language; a young person with anxiety is given some relief while participating in our program, and they are all more likely to go onto more advanced studies in music.
The end of class is marked by a hand-stamp given to each child for all of their participation, focus, and great music-making! I can honestly say that every child absolutely loves the hand-stamp and they all leave with a big smile on their face.
Marlana Williams is the newest member of the RealKids Early Childhood Music Program. She holds a Bachelor of Music in education from UMass-Lowell, and is continuing her graduate work at the university in community music. She has extensive experience in public schools teaching levels Kindergarten through High School. She is also a respected and sought after saxophonist, and a former member of the Boom Shak-Apella vocal ensemble.