All entries filed under DF Preschool

I’m glad I have a gig relatively soon after Musikfest. Today was at a North Bethlehem Day Care Center with three sessions. The first was for about 40 preschoolers with three different ages. The older kids were hip while the two younger groups struggled with singing along and other skills. I made the mistake of setting up in the play area next to the recently emptied dumpster. I broke out the bag of instruments towards the end. The kids were great and the teachers really enjoyed what I did. I learned my dumpster lesson, though.

The second set was for the toddlers (two years old and under) over in the rubberized surface of the toddler play area. It was much more pleasant but a tougher audience. Only two kids were completely engaged but the others were well behaved and took it all in and the teachers helped out, as well. I got out the scarves for this one and that was a good move. Lots of dancing and colors.

The last group were the older kids and it had some challenges of its own. The older girls were not going to join in and two of the older kids were bullying another subdued boy in the back. But, eventually, most of the kids came around thanks to Giant (and the Thunder Tubes) and conversation about their conception of a giant. This is the second time I’ve taken time out of playing music and simply chatting with the kids. It made a big difference. I opened up the bag of instruments for this one and it did the trick, as well. At the end, I opened up the reflection with questions about my vocation as an artist. That worked well, too, and I think the teachers appreciated the conversation. It doesn’t always have to be music up front.

Three sets was a good chunk of work but it gave me the opportunity to work on three different age groups and the skills I need to work on, especially the toddlers. I haven’t done this age in a while.

It was a good payday, it was local and it felt good to motivate on a Wednesday morning.

I’m hoping the kids will do some drawings and pictures. I will share them as I get them in.

I’ve been booked a couple times here at The Pumpkin Patch, a daycare center a little west of my old home town of Madison. I’ve been able to find a couple gigs around it but nothing popped up for this one. So, I decided to head out and back for relatively good pay, in spite of gas, tolls and a certain amount of exhaustion.

I split 4th Street at 5 am, not much of a problem since I’ve been getting up and going to the gym about that time for the last few weeks. I knew the traffic would okay, but one never knows once I get into NY and CT. As it happens, the trip up was a breeze, with some time to drop in at Ocean State Job Lot, one of my favorite cheap box stores.

I got to the site with an hour to spare, and found some time to meditate after the long drive. I headed on in and the folks were glad to have me back. I set up outside in the shade of the large trees for my 10 am set. It was going to be in the 90’s for the day, but things were just fine for my show.

There were about 30 kids in my space with toddlers and teachers on my left behind a fence (that made some unfortunate connections with current times…). So, I started in with my material. One toddler was so enthused with the music that he started leaping in the air with joy, but then forgot about his feet and took a header onto the pavement. It was an inauspicious beginning for the set but the caregivers tended to the lad and eventually he was up and running around again. It was a sobering moment.

I broke out the scarves towards the end and the kids danced around and it made a nice conclusion to my set. We packed up and I was able to head back home about 11 am, check in hand.

The drive back was not so much fun. I made the mistake of heading towards the GW Bridge instead of the Tappan Zee and hit lots of bumper-to-bumper traffic with road repair. Thankfully, I had my podcasts and music CDs to make the drive more pleasant. All in all, it was a ten hour trip and I was beat when I got back.

I was asked to do a rare opening set for the Smithereens and Marshal Crenshaw at Arts Quest that night and I turned it down. They gave me two day’s notice and it was for $100. That bothered me, and I was not sure if I had the appropriate material for this crowd as well. Anyway, I was glad that I did due to my long day on the road. Still, it would have been a treat to do the gig.

I have a nice relationship with this small preschool in Old Zionsville, run in a old UCC Church there. I’ve done Christmas Eve children’s services here as well a run of weekly arts/education visits several years ago. I’m going to do a family night this spring but one of the parents wanted me to perform for the preschoolers as well.

I was lined up for a 10:45 am slot and then a 12:45 slot for the afternoon kids. The first set was for about 12 4-year olds and I did my usual repertoire of Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah, Down By the Bay, etc. and wound up with kids dancing with my bag of instruments. It was interesting that they were new to rhyming and singing along, but that’s what these sessions are for. I try to take mental notes and gage where they are in their development. I wrapped it up just in time for the kids to get picked up by their folks.

I headed into Macungie to put some air in my tires, deposit the check and go back to the school.

The Tutti Tah

The second set was smaller, with only three girls and three boys and I decided to break out some different material for this set. We did Apples and Bananas, Tutti Tah, Down By the Bay, Bear Hunt and the kids were on the ball. I had good help from the teachers in charge – Wendy and Liz. Wendy help prompt the rhyming by holding up the alphabet chart as we explored the rhymes. It made for a very rich educational session.

Jelly in the Dish with scarves

I decided to break out the scarves for the last part of this session. We did my progression of “disappearing”, emotions and faces, spelling the alphabet and then their names and dancing to Jelly in the Dish. I’m glad that Wendy was mentally taking notes and hopefully can use some of the techniques. These visits are not just for the kids.

It was a pleasure to work with these kids and teachers, especially on a small and very local scale. Wendy also commented that her granddaughter simply loves my CD and boogies in her car seat when they travel together. Not to bad a gig for a cold February day before the snow storm tomorrow.

Here’s a nice quote from a mom, “You have a magical ability to fill both kids and parents souls! Our Weezie bragged to her brothers how she “got to hang out with THE Mr. Fry today!’ Thank you again!”

Young Audiences lined up a preschool center for me in Vineland, NJ on Friday morning. It’s a long haul to southern Jersey, about two and a half hours, but a fairly hassless commute. I left a 6:15 for the 10 am first set, so I pretty much breezed down and got there in good time.

I checked in at the office of this rather sophisticated preschool center. The site features 12 classrooms spread through a main building and several other buildings. There was great artwork throughout the spaces, all at kids’ level, a wonderful play space where I played, a very fine outdoor play area – all at level that I’ve never seen in any school situation.

I met the founder Carol Deola, a woman now in her eighties, still on the job. I had a chance to talk with “Miss Carol” before my first set. She taught school for 40 years and, upon retiring at 63, she found herself wanting to do more. She set up the preschool at the building in front, as demand increased she actually built other outbuildings on the site as well as a baby-care center across the street. Carol has obviously made some money on child-care, but also has done it very well. She also was really proud of the staff she has developed.

My office for the morning.

I set up in the spacious activity area for my 10 and 11 o’clock sets. I love the fact that I now have a small sound system perfect for these gigs. I had about 120 kids and teachers for each set, the first one with more three year olds, the second with more four year olds. There’s a big difference. The little kids are quite used to live music and singing along, but it remains important to expose them to the experience and the opportunity to do so. Still, there was great reaction from the kids and the teachers and I got to roll out my good stuff for both sets. Miss Carol was there for the first and part of the second set and she had a great time.

The kids were obviously engaged, thanks to the values and skills that this school provides. At one point, I had the kids sing back The Cat Came Back and Magic Penny by themselves and I was actually amazed at how well they did. At one point, I stopped and saluted them on their participation.

I left several copies of my kids’ CDs for the school, hoping that the teachers will make good use of them. The teachers and Miss Carol absolutely loved my visit. So did I.

 

I had an early 9 am gig at a Montessori school in northern NJ so I left around 6:30, hit the usual traffic in central Jersey but made it to the school by 8:30 as the parking lot was congested with parents dropping off children. I set up a small sound system in the gym for the estimated 90 kids. I was glad I did because I needed the vocal support in such a noisy venue and with my gravelly voice from the previous day.

The kids were enthusiastic as expected, intelligent but somewhat “entitled” – meaning difficult to quiet down after an active session. Not quite the discipline that I’m used to, but understandable with the Montessori system.

This was the first time this school had tried something like this and they were quite pleased with my work. I broke a sweat.

Off to CT.

I wish I could do these primary schools all the time. I had two morning assemblies in Lakewood, NJ, about 2 hours from home with about 250 kids and teachers at each show. We were in the gym.

I got there later than I wished (missed an exit on the GS Parkway in the morning sunshine) but knew I could launch on time. Lauren, the art teacher, was my liaison for this school and also was the person who moved the show back from three weeks ago (I was laid up with the hip). A most gracious woman.

These shows were for preschool, Kindergarten and First Grade, right in my wheelhouse. I really haven’t played a large solo assembly in a while, but I went with the strong stuff – cause it works. Sometimes this age group has never sung along, so I do my best to get them to sing – and, in a big gym, there’s less pressure to do so, especially when they hear the big sound of lots of kids singing. I had to pick on some of the teachers, though, to clue them in on the process.

There was a 90% latino group here in the heartland of NJ. Both groups responded wonderfully and the teachers were crowing on the performance. I get ’em riled up and active – just what this age group needs.

I chatted with the art teacher’s class (they were there for both shows) and asked what song they liked and they came up with You Are My Sunshine, one I wasn’t expecting (thinking they might say Cat Came Back from the previous show). Seems they just sang it at the school assembly a few days before. So they sang it, and I went back and played my guitar with them. It was then that I figured I would feature them in the second show. 

You Are My Sunshine is the perfect example of what a folk song is. They knew it well and had sung it on stage. So, after my usual opening songs, I started it out on the guitar and the entire first grade sang it with gusto. I then got them to stand up and sing it again. The energy level in the room was incredible, especially seeing the music teacher go nuts. (I found out he is a notable sax player with some pop star band experience – that’s why I enjoyed his reaction.) It was an inspired addition to the morning, thanks to being open to chat with the small class between shows.

It was a long drive, and the first large solo assemblies I’ve done in weeks. I’m pretty satisfied with my physical recovery, and glad to be able to perform well again. There’s still some weakness in the hip (5 weeks out) but, with a stool, I can get up and down for different songs.

It’s good to pay for play again, too.

 

I returned to First Pres preschool for a morning, half hour set in the gym of the school. Parents, grandparents, teachers and kids on blankets on the floor filled the place, so I had my PA ready. I had forgotten my musical bag, and had considered running back to the SouthSide for it. Turns out it was best that I didn’t. Too much chaos, too many kids, too short a set.

I did Finger in the Air for the first time in a while, as an opener. My friend Tom Druckenmiller had played it on the Sing Out podcast, and I had forgotten what a fine rendition is on the Playground CD. Nice to have it back in the rotation. We did all the good stuff, and I noticed early on that the kids wanted to dance, so I was able to do Names of the Animals, engage the older siblings on a creative level while the little ones simply danced with their friends.

What made this gig special was the small family gatherings spread out across the venue, not rows of kids, separate from their families. Lots of lap-sitting, photos of kids having a good time, creating some unique interactions among the generations. Powerful stuff, now that I reflect on it.

The principal gave me the check ahead of the session, and I remarked, “Oh, that’s right. I get paid, too.” I was half kidding. There’s a lot of truth in the fact that I play for the experience and the opportunity to create my art. It’s amazing that I do get paid for a fair price, and be done by noon.

I finished up my regular visits to this childcare center today, filled with love and joy. Having a stretch of many weekly visits has given me some nice perspective on my work, seeing what material sticks as well as the absorbing the learning capabilities of the different age groups.

I was delighted to learn that the kids are now doing Little Sally Walker on their own (in their own way), so I did a check up on the circle dance, and, for the most part, they were singing along and making their way through the dance.  The Bear Hunt and their Dorney Park verse is a favorite, and I got one girl to come up and lead it, and, again, it was a great moment to see her in front of her peers. Her excitement was palpable and she had a few unforced errors, but perfection is not the end here.

I brought out Rockin’ ABC’s and it was a big hit, especially with my shades and my backwards hat. We reprised Rosalie, Where are You Going with several kids taking the lead. They all had very little fear of performing in front of their friends.

I brought out some red sunglasses so I could get four kids up to do I Like Peanut Butter. They responded wonderfully and we created some fun theater. I then broke open the bag of instruments for the last time, and, again, the kids had mastered the three ways of playing (silence, beat and sizzle) and we jammed on Splish Splash.

I finished up by asking, “What was your favorite song?” Bear Hunt, Rockin’ ABC’s (the new one), Little Sally Walker, etc. as well as the teacher’s favorite Jelly in the Dish with the scarves. That was my favorite, too. I look forward to being asked back next year as well as returning for their ‘graduation’ in May.

Another delightful visit with the preschoolers at Third Street Alliance. They pick up on everything: today they wondered where was my hat. I asked for some favorites and I got Five Little Monkeys as a warm up and it was delicious, with great back and forth conversation, figuring out different ways of putting up four, five fingers on one or two hands. They were right there. I followed with John Brown’s Baby, a simple song that has hand motions, and as the singing part dissolves over the course of the song, the hand motions continue. The tough part is at the end with the “Yuck”. The younger kids really attach themselves to it, while the older kids get the silent part. We tried but it didn’t quite fly – though the older kids took pride in knowing the trick, and the younger kids just having a good time. Not a failure by any means.

I worked on the “I Like School” piece but it’s not gelling. So it goes. I reprised Bear Hunt and Jelly in the Dish (with scarves) and, in both cases, I invited various students to come up lead the class. It was a hoot! The kids really take to being up next to me, and some really take charge. That’s simply marvelous.

I have one more visit next week and then, in May, we’ll do something together for the parents. I’m really having a good time with these kids, gaining ideas and material for future gigs. Welcome to my laboratory!

Another good session with the kids. They had been listening to the Shake It! CD I gave them last week, so they were primed on The Ants Go Marching, etc. I decided to tempt the fates with my Sally songs and introduced them as circle dances. It was a new experience for some of the younger kids, but we figured out how to hold hands and move in a circle. They picked up the singing and dancing for the most part and it went quite well. The director came down while we were dancing and it was a pleasant surprise for her.

I brought up the Bear Hunt after several weeks (they really like this one) and it was good to review their two verses that they wrote (Jungle and Dorney Park) and it was a refresher for me, as well. They really did remember some of the finer points that I had forgotten, so that was pretty cool.

We finished up with Jimalong Joe, with the kids adding some dance moves (wobbly knees and several ninja moves) with some slight excursions into kids movies (Frozen?) but it was good to have them shake that thang at the end of the session. Remarkable progress and retention for these kids.

I love the fact that they are into hugs at the end and we did one big group hug to finish out my visit. I’m a happy man and come away feeling good about what I do.

Another session with the preschoolers with a few new songs left in the bag. The kids were ready when I came in so I tried out Sally Go Round the Sun as a simple sing along, especially with the ‘whoop’ at the end. I got them up to get the blood moving. I also do “Ants Go Marching”, worked on more rhyming skills as well as letting them come up with some ideas. I also did Watermelon with the slurp traveling the room, including and concluding with a woman, Lynn, with a note pad in the back. I found out eventually that she was doing an article for the Alliance about my residency in the preschool. She enjoyed the whole session and it was fun to have someone new and adult in the crowd.

We reviewed Peanut Butter and Jelly, just for giggles. I brought along my bag of instruments today and waited for the end of the session to break it out. I was going to do Jelly in the Dish, another new one for these kids and as I opened the bag, I thought that just emptying the stuff out was a little too chaotic, and I hadn’t used the scarves yet, so came up with yet another brilliant idea that I can use further down the line.

I passed out the scarves and the kids immediately started to play with them. I went along with them and we tried over the head, ninja masks and other delights. They led the way. I introduced the first verse and had them hang on to the scarves as we sang, wave them around and at the very end, the last ‘dish…..’ throw them in the air. That way the kids didn’t start tossing them up and around til the end. It worked well. After several verses, the kids were picking up on singing, making the kitchen sounds in the sound and then trading scarves with other kids. It was a rich session, with movement, color, social interaction and it became a performance piece that I can use in some of my gigs this summer.

Sometimes I amaze myself.

My first gig was at the preschool at Third Street Alliance. I brought in my rain stick, and it was a good opener and a good was to center the kids and create a listening space. Good discussion and the teacher jumped in with the plastic version of the stick. Excellent!!!

Today, I brought in my purple electric guitar and it also focused the group, recalling my acoustic guitar, introducing the amp, the pickups, etc. I went into I Like Peanut Butter, one they knew before, but now with the electric.

I recalled Rosalie, Where are You Going with two new kids and then Bridgette, one of the teachers. She did a great job and it was wonderful to see the kids watch her be a kids. Big, big moment in the class.

I did I’m Gonna Tell and it was good fun, exercising their vocal skills and some fun reactions with the older kids.

I followed with We Gave Names to the Animals and the kids picked up on the routine quickly. We had some good movement and interaction. I introduce The Cat Came Back to these kids and it was a little steep for these kids and I resorted to having the kids crawl around on the floor like cats. It worked wonderfully……

I have to start on a song with the kids (really young) but we talked about school, and potential rhymes with it… pool, fool, cool…… a start when rhyming is a new skill.

 

 

 

 

 

Making up for the snow last week, I made it to the Third Street Alliance for another visit with the kids. This time I brought my Eastman mandolin. I also had the opportunity to refresh some of the songs I’ve introduced already, just to see what has sunk in with the kids. The five year olds really have retained quite a bit.

I did Rosalie, Where are You Going with the kids, and several kids coming up front to take the lead. It was great to see the kids take charge and ‘perform’ in front of their fellow students. I also brought up a boy and a girl to lead on Peanut Butter and Jelly, both enjoying taking the lead. All part of passing off my lead to the kids. We also did Jimalong Joe with their dance moves added in.

I also started the process of writing a graduation song by asking them what their favorite moments were in the school day. They came up with playing with friends, stuffed animals, building lego houses, painting the outside wall with water, a visit to a pumpkin patch, singing along. A good start to the process.

My friend Lisa invited me to do a morning show with a group of about 30 preschoolers at a comfortable facility in Pen Argyl, PA. It was good to be one the road again, making some money and playing for kids. Things have been slow, especially recuperating from the operation over the last week.

The kids and the four teachers were primed and ready, waiting for me as I arrived. We did The Bear Hunt, I Wanna Be a Dog, Down By the Bay, etc. and we were rolling along, singing, moving, laughing and playing. I had another opportunity to use the 1, 2, 3 method of instrument playing, and, again, it worked perfectly, maintaining some control in what could be a chaotic situation.

I finished with Magic Penny and took some time at the end to reflect on what we did together, an important way of centering ourselves, and giving the kids a way to express to themselves (and, importantly, their parents) what we just experienced over the last hour together. It’s important to not let the experiences slip away. I was able to do this for the last three gigs this week and I’m glad it’s part of the routine, just as writing these reflections has become.

RockRoots tomorrow in NJ. A busy week getting back up in the saddle.

I’ve landed a couple of  residencies that will bring me into a school weekly for visits. I particularly enjoy using these situations as a laboratory, to get to know the kids better over time, gauge the progress of the kids, and force myself to be able to bring new experiences for the kids and myself. It’s quite a bit different than the once-and-done assemblies where I use my tried-and-true material.

Tuesday morning was the first visit to the Learning Center at the Third Street Alliance for Women and Children in the old YWCA building in downtown Easton. I’m signed up for seven weeks of weekly visits with the preschool kids. One of the teachers remembers me from my PASELA work eight years ago in Bethlehem. The first visit usually features my standard pre-school material as I get a grip on the kids abilities and the opportunity to have some fun.

When I came in, one comment popped up, “He’s old!” I said, “Yes, I’m 146 years old!” I love the opportunity to warm up the kids with humor, facial expressions and silliness, and it sets the stage for the rest of visit. This age still doesn’t quite know what rhyming is all about. Down By the Bay is an example. What sounds like “cat” immediately is translated as ‘meow’, and not a rhyme for the word cat. But that’s why I’m here.

I eventually broke out the instruments and we worked on my 1, 2, 3 system of 1 (silence), 2 (beat) and 3 (sizzle or shake). The kids picked up right away and it’s a good technique in controlling the potential chaos of everyone playing all at the same time. It worked well, even at this age.

It was my first school gig after my operation, the first of two for the day. A good start.

I headed back to Bristol, PA for my second visit to an ES in my ancestral home town, home to my mom, dad, and grandparents’ families. I played for two shows with the second grade the day after the elections last week, so it was a fresh start today with the K’s today. Vast difference in cognitive skills so I have to figure out where these kids are at. It’s fun to do the silly stuff to get their attention and then see how they do in singing along, movements, rhymes, recall, etc. So many things I have to do to shape the experience. I try to communicate with the quiet kids, go with the quick kids, and pass it around as best I can. I find times to discuss or analyze what we’ve just done just to have some reflection time with them.

I am finding ways to distribute instruments out to the kids with the teachers help, eliminating the chaos of dumping out the bag in front of the kids (but this is with 50 kids, so I had to work this out). I’m teaching them the three steps in playing: 1. Silence (don’t play) 2. With the beat. 3. Sizzle, or shake. This is working out nicely and gives me some control of the experience in a musical way. A very nice tool I’m starting to use.

I’m finding some light these days with the kids show. I had a chat with one of the teachers I played for last week, and we both bemoaned the seismic change going on right before our eyes, especially for kids of color. We have some heavy responsibility with our children these days.