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.