Winter 2011 - Joel at Beatrice House

January 13 Today was the first class of the Winter 2011 session at Beatrice House. It was great to be back. I was greeted with big smiles from the mothers and hugs from several children. Five weeks had passed since we were last together, and the children were very excited to get back to making music.

There was a seemingly unending stream of children. It felt like there must have been 20 kids. It was rambunctious to say the least! I remembered quickly that if I want to keep everyone sitting down during the jam session, I need to stay seated, myself. As soon as I stood up, so did ALL of the children. Which only amped the craziness even more. The boardroom we are in has four, hard smooth walls and the carpet has just been replaced with hardwood - making for a very reverberant room. The tambourines and hand drums really zing in that room!

The children really go wild under the parachute. I remind myself that even while it may seem that they are going crazy, we are providing a safe place for them to let out a lot of steam, and noise, and energy in a group environment. But we also practice sharing, listening, learning new songs and actions. The wild moments are a counterpoint to moments of focus and attentiveness. (And some weeks the balance shifts more heavily from one to the other.)

January 17th

We were in a completely new room tonight and it went super awesome. The room was a bit smaller than the boardroom, but didn't have any furniture in it. For the first time ever, there was a carpet shape that perfectly defined the circle. In my year at Beatrice House, I have yet to find a consistent way to get everyone sitting in a circle. But tonight, it was so easy to ask people to sit the perimeter of the rug. I think it helped us gel. And it certainly makes it easier to keep track of names during the hello and goodbye songs.

A few new people, and a few people visiting the shelter who used to live here. It was a great vibe. Medium size. We did lots of rhythm and clapping. It was great to watch a first timer as he caught on, and his whole face lit up.

We had 2 older sisters present (probably 10 yrs old) and I asked them right off the top if they wanted to participate or sit it out - I was pleased that they both wanted to be sung hello to. And they were on board. It was great; I really feel that that kind of example helps set an example for the younger kids. This program really soars in that it is not just about kids releasing energy - although that is part of it, it is a chance to create joyful moments, in sync and in harmony with a community of friends and family. January 27th

As with last week, there were three older sisters in attendance. Sometimes older kids are so afraid of looking "uncool" that they can be more of a distraction to a Rainbow Songs class. So before we began I asked the three of them specifically if they were going to sing all of the songs. "Yes," and can I sing hello to you by name, too? "Yes." Alright then. And with them on board, it ended up being a great class. If anything, the more adults (or even just older siblings) who are present and participating, the more focused the children are. Kids see all of these big people doing the actions and playing along with the songs, and it makes them want to be a part of the group.

If I am ready a few minutes early, I like to ask the kids what their favorite songs are. And while we wait for the rest of the group, sometimes we might even have a little pre-class sing-along. Invariably, kids request the Alphabet song. This is one that I like to save for the end of class when all of the maracas and tambourines are out. Tonight we sang a nice version of the ABCs with minimal guitar. I wanted to encourage the kids that were there to really sing out and let their voices fill the room. Next request: one little boy enthusiastically cried out, "I want to Sticky Sticky Bubblegum!" Ha! How can I say no to that?

February 3rd

Today the special instrument of the week was the Cabasa, which was a huge success. The kids were very quick learning how to play it, and were able to play it independently. It is a great instrument because there are so many different ways to make a sound with it, the kids can each find their own unique way of playing it while the rest of the group sang songs such as "Clean-O" and "The Banana Boat Song".

There was a different Beatrice staffer than usual, and she was AWESOME with the mothers. She brought a different vibe to the classroom. The mothers really trust her, and she can quickly draw them into dancing and clapping throughout the class. She kept them comfortable and laughing, and even poked fun at them to hurry up and get on their feet for the next activity. (I still get a lot of whinging about making the mothers sit on the floor.) She even brought a new twist to one of my songs. During Sleeping Bunnies, she operated "light FX," by switching the lights in the room off during the lullaby part, and then flicking them on during the hopping.

The vibe in the room was a little restless. I get the feeling some of these kids are starting to feel the drain of winter. They've got lots of energy, but are a little more grumpy and agitated than they were in the summer. I noticed this primarily before class and during the first couple of songs. I find they've long since shaken this off by the second half of class. And when the instruments and parachute come out, it's all giggles and jumping and spinning and laughing.

February 10th Today was a smaller group than usual. There were five mothers and seven children. But as I have said before, sometimes a smaller group can allow me a deeper connection with the those that are there. The special instrument can be a little more special, as each child gets a longer turn, and I am able to put my hands on each child's if they need help finding the technique to play the instrument. This week I shared the wooden frogs from Thailand. We sang "Five Green and Speckled Frogs", and "The Little Green Frog."

There was a lovely moment during the parachute section of the class. Parachute time is a chance for the kids to dance and jump (sometimes even just lie) beneath a parachute as the grown-ups shake the rainbow coloured parachute to the rhythm of the music. This week, one of the mothers decided that she wanted to go under the parachute, and she committed to it with complete enthusiasm. She lay on her back under the parachute and shook her arms and legs while we sang, "Shake it, Baby, Shake it." The kids thought it was the funniest thing ever, some joined in, while the others helped by holding the parachute.

It was a really touching moment to see how much the children enjoy it when a mother totally releases her inhibitions and can be silly for the sake of fun.

February 15th

What a great class tonight! We were a medium sized class with about 8 moms and 12 kids. It was the first class that I have brought out the red, rhythm sticks: a pair of drum sticks per child, one smooth and one with ridges. In the first class, we sang several rhythm based songs to get the kids warmed up with clapping, toe-tapping, and knee-slapping. The group was very focused, and so I knew that they were ready for the sticks.

The rhythm stick activities serve many purposes. First, they create a sense of unity and togetherness. "Everyone put both sticks up in the air! Okay, now everyone put both sticks down! One stick up, one stick down!" The kids can look around and see that everyone is participating, and everyone is doing the same gestures in (relative) synchronicity. Awesome.

Secondly, the sticks give the children a chance to feel the pulse of the music we are singing as we tap on our knees, our toes, the floor, etc. This gives tactile feedback of the rhythm, and teaches how to play together.

And one of the children's favorite parts is when I countdown "Three, two, one," and everyone plays their own 'crazy' rhythm on the carpet. And then I call "Sticks up!" and everyone (eventually) freezes. It makes for a loud fast drumming event punctuated with nice clean pauses. Then we drum s-l-o-w-l-y. Pause. Then we drum quickly, but softly. It's very theatrical, and the children really get into it. (So do I. Ha!)