All entries filed under Afterschool Programs

  I was signed up for six Monday sessions with my K-kids over the last eight weeks and today was the last. I am glad it is over. I learned alot about my inability to sustain quality learning over this span with this particular age group. The two girls were quite bright and made me hopeful that we could do some quality work, but, for the most part, the boys were off in their own space.

For the first couple of weeks, I was able to keep some focus with the group by bringing in new instruments and songs; the novelty of the process was strong in keeping the kids in tow. But, the freshness wore off and the kids began to treat the time as play-time, with the boys rolling around on the floor, spending time with the puppets and instruments on their own and disregarding any form of guidance from my part. I became a babysitter for 70 minutes.



Today, I asked which playsongs they remembered so we did Bear Hunt, Jelly in the Dish and a few others. I tried to review other material but nothing worked – I basically had to get them up dancing since any meaningful educational floor work was out the door. The scarves worked for a bit but then they went off on their own making up costumes, etc. That was fine but there was no music involved – too much chaos.

I had no support from the school in the classroom after the first week so I was on my own. Any meaningful authority I had with the kids was gone after the third week, partly because of the fact that these were kids in their first semester in a brand new social/school situation. I have no idea about their family situations, either. I’m sure there are other cultural gaps in my work.

At the end, I gave them all CDs of my kids stuff, knowing full well that they probably had no way of listening to them. I asked them what they liked and they came up with puppets, the music, dancing and that’s about it. My job was to supply fun, and, I guess, that’s what I did. I had hoped for more.

I got paid well for the series and I’m glad for the opportunity like this one to hone my craft in the field. Sometimes, I’m just not as good as I thought should be. It was a tough job and wish I had more control over the situation.

Surprisingly, we had a good session for the K After School Program today, in spite of a few bumps along the way. I was able to not let J derail the activities too much, though I did complain to the home room teacher about him derailing my more meaningful explorations. I didn’t get much sympathy from her. It is part of the job. But we rolled through the hour.

I was glad I had my scarves to establish a centered group of kids and the “invisible” technique worked wonders. (If you put the scarf over your head, you become invisible – and quiet…) It led to some quality group / individual play as we turned the scarves into ninja headwear, cat tails, etc. We danced to Jelly in the Dish and turned the mood around. Egg shakers, puppets, rainbow sticks, maracas all came out in definable groups so the kids got to dance and play. We also brought back The Bear Hunt and expanded on that. Today, the time went quickly and I didn’t have to ride J to behave as much. Water off the ducks back, so to speak.

I gave red shades to the kids and we had some fun wearing them as I made up a tune for the occasion.

One more session next Monday. I am fulfilling my stated mission to “just have fun” though it, at times, seems like work.

It was the third of six afterschool Monday’s with my Marvine gang on a gray day after a long weekend. I was a little unsure of where to go with this particular group of kids – one bright girl and three boys who are new to a school situation this year. It’s a real balancing act that greatly reduces my options. One boy is quite difficult to keep in focus, and he drags the other guys off into his space.

Today, we added two new kids, a boy and a girl, and that helped broaden the effort. I had to pay attention to them to get them up to speed with our group as well as find new territory for the others.

Today, I brought in my banjo (last week, the mandolin) and we did some exploring with it. Taniya made the connection with Kermit and his banjo – that was an indication that she’s got parents that are putting her in front of some intelligent media. We rolled through Rockin’ ABC’s, Bear Hunt, Old McDonald, the scarves, the puppets, the egg shakers and maracas, but really couldn’t get a firm grip on the group as a whole.

I’ve been asked to concentrate on “fun”, but it remains a big challenge with the diversity of social skills that this group has. Tough job.

My next Marvine Monday is December 3rd. Honest day’s work for me.

I have  weekly visits to Marvine School for five weeks. Today was the first Monday of the series. The school liaison Cesar Cordova set me up with the Kindergarten afterschool kids and he wants me to just have fun with the kids – no heavy academics involved. It makes sense for this age, especially when it’s the first taste of school for these children.

It’s a small group of four – Jaden, Jason, Jay are the J-boys and Taniya is the lone girl. I also have a middle school student Anna sitting in to help, but also to, hopefully, learn a thing or two. She’s interested in working with kids so this will be good for us both.

Taniya is a particularly bright girl, and she was totally engaged and even offering ideas as we rolled along. The boys, as expected, are a mixed bag, with Jason being the most “off-the-wall” of the bunch – physically active and somewhat scattered. He’ll be my biggest challenge. The other boys were a delight to work with and a little on the shy side to begin with.

I did a lot of my strong stuff right off the bat in order to gauge where their learning and social skills are. Tutti Tah, Down By the Bay, the Scarves Set with lots of movement. I did Jelly in the Dish with maracas first, tambourines second, etc., trying to keep the focus on similar instruments instead of diving into the bag. There’s time for that later. I included Anna in much of the interplay and she seemed to have a good time, laughing at what we were doing.

These kids are not shy about dancing, part of a new awareness for dance moves recently up in the culture. I was able to spotlight each kid’s favorite move, let them lead and teach the others their move. All in all, there was lots of back and forth, conversations and just plain play.

After an hour plus, they headed out to get picked up by their parents and slipped out the side door, feeling good about a very productive session. Let’s hope the kids come back energized.

It’s been a busy end-of-the-school year and I picked up a small “afterschool” gig north of Nazareth on Friday afternoon. There were only 40 or so kids and a few teachers/counselors on hand for this. We wet up in the gym (glad to have my small system with me) and off we went. The kids were into it as were the adults. There were two high school girls who were helping out so I picked on them to get them involved, and eventually got them up for Thunder Tubes on Giants. It was fun to see them loosen up, for them and the kids, too.

It was a splendid June day and the drive up into the PA hills did my spirit well.

I showed up for my first afterschool session at Marvine and found out only four kids were signed up, all boys. Oh, boy. As the gym emptied out I settled in with my four lads and tried to figure out how to work this out.

I was glad I had my bag of instruments so they would have stuff in their hands and it went well, teaching them some basic rhythms, getting them to play together. I worked for a while but as I got into the lyric part, two of the boys started to act up and I had to stop and pull things together often. Eventually one kids said, “I wanna go home.” I agreed silently.

I even tried to have them run around the gym when I played the ‘big endings’ and that worked well for boys. But I really, really missed having some girls in the room to provide some gravitas to the proceedings.

This is not working out, especially if we are to produce a song by the end of the sessions. I like challenges but not like this.

I started my next Southside Children’s Festival residency at Marvine ES, a predominantly Hispanic school on the north side of Bethlehem. I’ll be doing weekly afterschool songwriting with these kids, so I figured we should have some sort of introductory session with the 4th and 5th graders, the core group for this run of workshops. Mr. Cordova, the school liaison for the project has great connections with the kids so I trust his instincts. He suggested that I come in during the lunch period and play while they ate. Normally, I would have said no, but this turned out to be the perfect teaser for the workshops. Kids signed up.

I set up a new PA for me, a simple amp with room for a mike and my guitar, low volume and easy load in and out. It worked great! Lesson #1.  I got there early so I was able to play for the younger kids eating in front of me, and, as the older kids came in and settled into their lunches on the far side of the room, I introduced myself and did some songs that other kids had written words to: Tropical Vacation, Cat Came Back, Names to the Animals, etc. We connected in spite of the lunch situation. Each set was brief and the kids filed out for recess for the rest of their period. The teachers, and the lunch ladies all had a good time with some of the younger kids getting up and dancing (with their teacher!).

Mr. Cordova was handing out papers to the kids, explaining what we were going to do over the next few weeks and recruiting kids for the sessions. He was pleased that he came close to handing out all of his stack. Looks like we stirred something up. It was a low pressure, social situation for the kids and myself, and it worked well. Lesson #2. Since I have been paid for the whole project up front, I am more willing to invest on the long run, and not just for this gig.

An interesting and unexpected thing came up at the end when Mr. Cordova mentioned that the school might be interested in this type of event, especially during the winter when there is no outside recess. The teachers commented how much the kids were engaged during the period, perhaps with less mayhem and uproar than usual. Can you say ‘crowd control?’ I was able to play for younger and older kids at the same time.

I might be able to come back and provide active and intelligent activities during the lunchtime periods. Sounds like a whole lot of fun for me and the kids, too. Lesson #3.  Making a living doing what I do.

The afternoon’s session was my second with the Summer Slide kids at Marvine. As this program develops, the directors are beginning to figure out the system as well as some of the capabilities of the students, some of whom have issues. On my attendance sheet, several kids were noted for slight autism, behavioral problems, etc. so it was nice to have that information up front so I can deal with it. Actually Michael, the boy with some autistic tendencies, was surprisingly engaged, remembered things from my visit two weeks ago, and was a real pleasure to work with. I felt good about complimenting him on his efforts. These are only K, 1st and 2nd graders and the intellectual differences are noticeable.

We had some nice explorations together, adding some verses to She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain and the Bear Hunt. Some good dancing, instrument playing and spontaneity. A good session.

This was the beginning of a run of weekly sessions with summer school students from the Bethlehem School District. I am just one of several artists working with kids during the summer vacation to help curtail what is known as ‘summer slide’ when kids educational progress erodes significantly over the summer months. It’s part of a proven process nationally to engage kids academically.

I had eight or so K’s and 1st graders, only one girl (Shylah, quite so…) and a bunch of boys with various attention spans. One K boy was out of hand and had to be taken to the cafeteria for some crayon time. I figured it be best to break them in with my standard stuff and not hit the literacy stuff too soon. But, singing along, working out rhymes and otherwise engaging them is part of the process, and I had to figure out where they were as well. Cat Came Back, Tutti Tah, Peanut Butter, Down by the Bay, etc.

I have one hour with them and about 45 minutes into the session, one boy said, “I wanna go home.” I had noticed he was not as engaged as the others. So, it was time to dance! I broke out the bag and we did Splish Splash and Jelly in the Dish, and, sure enough, he was back in the game. I’m glad I have a bunch of arts tools in my saddle to be able to recognize and act on these situations.

Another particularly shy boy came in while I was about 15 minutes into the session. He was escorted by the teacher/assistant, painfully shy and in tears. Over the next hour, it was great to see him break out of his shell and start to participate. During Down by the Bay, he started to laugh and eventually chipped in some rhymes and got up and danced. A minor victory in the day of an arts educator.

It was particularly hard work, especially with such a small and young age group, so I’m earning my small honorarium in this series. I look forward to getting to know the kids better as we go along.

This was the final visit in a series of five Tuesday afternoons with this group of second and third graders, and it was going to be the grand finale, with parents coming by for the last half hour. There were quite a few kids missing, so we had a skeleton crew. We went over the verses we wrote for The Cat Came Back, We Gave Names to the Animals and The Bear Hunt. We didn’t quite finish up our original song I’m at My Best, but we practiced what we had.

As ten or so parents and other family members came by, I talked a little about what we tried to do with songwriting and then presented our material. It was nice to see my students looking to their families, showing some pride in their work, and having fun with me. And, it was fun for me to play to the folks and to my new friends.

It was rather anticlimactic, but satisfying nonetheless. We connected, though, on this small level, so that’s still okay.

Fountain Hill Afterschool hit its third session, and it was time to get to work on the 7 Habits song. But, I led off with a recall of the kids’ Cat Came Back verse that was still on the music teacher’s board. I decided to see if I could stretch this into a warm up, and it developed nicely.  I introduced my purple electric guitar as an opener and it was, again, a good centering device to start with. We sang the verse through several times, but I felt we gotta move, so I got them up to sing the chorus with movement. I picked one girl to lead the chorus with snaps and steps. She wasn’t quite ready to lead, but I picked an older girl I had some issues with attention spans to take the lead. It was exactly the right person to engage and she jumped at the chance and nailed the session. We worked on singing the chorus at a diagonal in the room, added a “wave” and a finale. Great energy for the task ahead.

Time to write lyrics. I came up with “At My Best” for an entry into the “Best Practices” school curriculum. We had talked last week and developed a list of when I’m feeling at my best. We came up with three verses from last weeks discussion and actually got some good work in. I added a chord progression on guitar (as the battery died) and put something together. Added claps and a couple of other interactive chops. We’re on our way.

I’m at my best when I’m feelin’ great.  //

Like an ice cream cone on a summer date.  //

Like pencil all sharp, ready for art. //

Like a game of soccer on Fountain Hill Park ……………… //


I’m at my best when I’m in my groove,   //

Like a new paint brush, nice and smooth.  //

Like my guitar when it’s in tune,  //

Like basketball dunk,  bam, ka boom……………………..//


I’m at my best when I’m really pleased, //

Like a pizza party, pepperoni and cheese, //

Like a summer day down at the pool, //

Hanging’ with friends when there’s no school!………………. that’s cool.


As I scurried to write down the lyrics from the board, the kids got to try the electric guitar (no amp) as they lined up to leave. They had a great time, even if it wasn’t amplified. Cool.

Blues Jam at Godfreys at 7 pm.

I headed up to Fountain Hill ES for the afternoon session, again two weeks after our last visit. I did Giants with Thunder Tubes, worked in the banjo and She’ll  Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, and then concentrated on writing a verse to The Cat Came Back. We came up with:

The Cat was at Fountain Hill, prowling the hall,

He saw the Music Room, a guitar on the wall.

He strummed a Beatles tune, one by Justin Bieber, too,

The music teacher said, “Don’t touch my stuff, hit the road, shoo.

We were in the music room with the music teacher as we wrote this, so it was great to have her input on the last verse, so the kids can now sing it with feeling.

The project is headed towards a song about one of the ‘good habits’ that the district is promoting and I’m looking towards the one “Sharpen the Saw”, encouraging healthful habits to take care of your body by eating right, exercising and getting sleep. I asked about things that they do, when they know things are right. I brought up having my guitar in tune. Other ideas popped up like a sharp pencil, a cold ice cream cone on a hot day, soccer on fresh grass, smooth paint brush, slam dunk in basketball, and other good ideas that we’ll work on next week.

Another good session.


I lost a couple of gigs last week due to the foot of snow last week, so I was ready to get back to work this Tuesday with the Easton pre-school in the morning and the Fountain Hill after school program in the afternoon.

The day care kids were ready when I got in, and we proceeded to get to work. I asked them what do they remember from last time (two weeks ago) and there was some remarkable retention, especially with the Bear Hunt and Peanut Butter and Jelly. Today I introduced the banjo to everyone’s delight, and we worked on She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain and it was a hoot. I’ve developed some of the movements in the verses that lots of fun, and not the tame version that I’m sure some music classes use.

We added “Dorney Park Waterslide” and a “Jungle” to Bear Hunt, and that turned out to be a good exploratory session.

The second gig on Tuesday was the first of four visits to Fountain Hill ES for a songwriting residency. Eventually we’ll try to write a song about one of the Seven Healthy Habits that the school district is promoting. But, today was our getting-to-know each other session. The music teacher and two middle school kids joined in with myself and about 10 2nd and 3rd graders, most fairly energetic and creative kids. They were familiar with The Cat Came Back from music class, so we sang that one. We’ll write a verse for that one in the coming weeks. I also introduced We Gave Names to the Animals and proceeded to write a verse about the Lorax, the Dr. Suess character. So, we were off and running on our songwriting adventure.

They were familiar with The Bear Hunt, so we added a couple of excursions to that one as well. This will be a good group of writers and explorers as well. We’ll have some good material to share with the school later on in spring.

I hit one snag while I was getting the kids up and moving. One very shy boy, Mason, didn’t get up to join in with the other exuberant kids, and I insisted that he should. He immediately broke down into tears. Ooops. I apologized and the teacher quickly applied Kleenex and TLC while I tried to continue on with the others. The teacher whispered to me that he was musically interested but painfully shy. (Different learning abilities). He eventually gained control and, though I avoided direct eye contact, I noticed that he was smiling and participating on a very low keyed level. The teacher said that it was good that he didn’t leave and stuck it out. I now have to figure out how to incorporate him in the discussions and workshop without being a threat. This will be one of the challenges and I look forward in learning how to do this.

We opened up some good avenues for creative writing, movement and active participation, well on the way to a good songwriting residency. Though I’m still at 80%, it was good to be in my element.

I did some hard traveling today in order to work towards the goal of a Calypso school song for its centennial. I’m  led to connecting these kids with kids who have gone to school here over the years. I did some work with old playground games and today brought up lunch experiences. We haven’t got to school learning yet.

I am welcomed with “Hey, Dave Fry”, silent waves and smiles, thumbs up and other ways of saying “Hi, Artist”.  We head up to the room and dig in. I start off with Giants with Thunder Tubes and it loosened things up immediately, without having to sing the Cat Came Back. (A few murmurs of disgruntlement).

We started on a rhyme with Calypso and settled on Hey, Ho, Calypso, something we can repeat, and the kids got it. They are invested!


Hey, ho, Calypso,
Miles of smiles that shimmer and glow.
Every day, we all  grow,
Ho, ho,ho,…. we refined this to a chuckle.

Verses, after some pretty good connections, and some sweat on my part.

Out on the playground, we skip and run,
Red Rover, Dodgeball , super fun,
A hundred years of kids’ tag games.
Jump rope, hopscotch , we’re just the same.

The morning starts with the school bell ring,
Learn math, reading and science things,
Time for lunch, Hey, what’s to eat?
Sandwich, an apple and a sweet treat.

We finished off with some dancing, knock-knock jokes and tomfoolery to end the session in movement, performance, recitations, singing, and more good stuff. This is a pretty rich learning environment. I’m learning new stuff all the time.