Thursday, June 20, 2019

Toy Boat

We know that children make discoveries when playing. When we watch young children playing with blocks, for example,  we can observe moments of discovery about gravity, balance, geometry and more.  We, as adults, just have to have an interest in how they are learning and take the time to watch. 

Children make discoveries through music play as well…..and  I enjoy keeping my eyes and ears open to notice those moments.  

A discovery that I remember, from years ago, still makes me smile.

I traveled with my banjo to an early childhood center in Fort Wayne, Indiana and shared, during my concert there, a song that I created to celebrate the tongue twister "Toy Boat." After singing the song I led the preschoolers and kindergartners in a follow-up game. Children could take turns coming forward to say the words "toy boat" in the microphone, three times. And, of course, they had to say the words fast.  That's what makes a tongue twister challenging and fun.  It's what makes a tongue twister play.

You know the results.  

"Toy boat, toy boit, toy boit!" 

And so on.

After the concert I joined some of the children out on the playground and overheard a number of them continuing to attempt to complete the challenge.

"Toy boat, toy boat, toy boit." (laughter)

"Toy boit, toy boit, toy boit." (more laughter)

One little boy ran up to me excitedly and said, "Hey Jim Gill!  I've got a new one!"

I wasn't exactly sure of what he was referring to, so I asked him what his "new one" was.

He looked straight at me and proudly said, "Foy foat, foy foat, foy foat."

I smiled a big GENUINE smile.  Then I gave him a playful challenging look.  

"Oh yeah?  Moy moat, moy moat, moy moat!"

He stopped for a moment.  I could see that he was thinking, just by watching his face.

His reply:  "Doy doat, doy doat, doy doat!"

The young child was, of course, making phoneme substitutions. Substituting letter sounds like this is a very important early literacy skill.  Beginning reader books, like Dr. Seuss'  famous "Cat in the Hat," were created to exercise this ability. 

And this young boy just discovered it for himself. He began by playing a tongue twister and, once playing with words and sounds, began to play with different sound (letter) substitutions.

No computer or tablet or app on a smartphone was needed. No worksheets were involved. All the child needed was a caring adult to share a silly word game and some play time for him to expand on that game. 

What makes this story so memorable to me, years later, is that when this young boy shared his creation, he not only shared his discovery but his excitement about the discovery. 

Play is inspiring.  Not only is it inspiring for children to learn and master a new skill, but the discovery process itself is inspiring.  

And I am more inspired in my work when I remember to keep my eyes and ears open to notice those moments. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Putting Yourself in the Play

Last month I visited the Las Vegas-Clark County Library System for a series of concerts and recalled my last visit there.  During a stop on that tour, two years ago,  I entered the meeting room at one of the branches and noticed a colorful banner on the wall.   After a double take I realized that it contained the lyrics to my song “List of Dances.”

Of course I was excited to see the words in full color and made sure to include a read-along and dance-along of that song during my concert that day! 

Over the years I have been honored to see, in person,  and receive photos of a number of these hand-made List(s) of Dances.  I enjoy the thought that each of these signs is an indication that my song is a favorite at a library story time or in a classroom.  But I most enjoy thinking about the process – the play – that goes into the creation of the sign.

The stories that I have heard from librarians and teachers are all variations of this scenario:

“We played the song for the children in our program and, after dancing the game four or five days in a row, noticed that the children were mouthing the words or singing along.  They had the song memorized in the same way that they memorize their favorite books.
“So we decided to make a list of the dances in the song so that the children could playfully “read” along as they danced.  We started with just a simple list written out on butcher paper with a marker.  But when we saw the children paying more and more attention to the words on the sign, we decided to make a big colorful banner that we could display all the time.
“It’s a favorite in our program.  And it is great to see the children making more and more connections between the words on the list and the words that they sing and dance!” 

Again, I thoroughly enjoy the idea that my song is played in a story time program or in a classroom, but I am really excited about how the song, in these instances, was just the beginning.  The song is an opportunity for teachers, librarians and other early childhood professionals to observe what children are learning while they play (memorizing and singing the rhymes) and to help the children take another step in literacy development (writing out the text for children to connect the words they are singing with written symbols). 

Some folks say that my “List of Dances” song promotes literacy development.  That is a compliment (and I never refuse a compliment) and it is concise to say that, but it is not exactly the truth.  The song is a great opportunity for caring adults to put themselves in the play and help children learn what they are ready to learn and excited to learn. 

I am honored when librarians, teachers and care providers think enough of my songs to make them a part of their work with children.  But it is not the song that is “good for” the children.  It is the thoughtful play that each of these professionals puts into the experience.  The song may be an excellent springboard, but it only becomes a vehicle for development when adults put themselves in the play.