Danica Starts at Birkdale Residence

Today was my first day at the Birkdale Residence. I was very excited to meet Elizabeth and discuss the changes that have been taking place at Birkdale over the last couple months. Children's Services is no longer running at Birkdale (a service originally offered to residents) and so now the space has been transformed into a Family Resource Center. The new structure runs similar to a daycare in the respect that there are programs running in the morning and afternoon with supervision, however differs in the fact that it is no longer promoted as a drop-off program. In fact, grownups are encouraged to use the space WITH their children. RSF fits perfectly into the "Rhythm and Sound" component of the new programming and the first day certainly reflected Birkdale's efforts to engage both mother and child in a music making activity. As participants began to enter the room, I handed out name tags and introduced myself to each mom and child individually. I couldn't help but notice the vast range in ages (3 months - 8 years old), and started to form my lesson plan in my head by asking them questions like "What is your favourite song?" and "Do you enjoy singing?" One child pointed at my guitar and squealed saying "Look mom, its a guitar!". As we sat down I decided to break the ice even more and ask the older children "How many strings do I have on my guitar?". It counted the strings together I used this time to practice addressing them each individually (some of the names were tricky to pronounce) and we launched right into the Hello Song. I decided to use the 2-4 Year Old version so they could have an opportunity to stand up, turn around and sit back down with their grownup. We were very comfortable on a colourful rug with pillows so I decided to ask the group "Who had a hard time waking up today?". Many of the grownups raised their hand and we all laughed at each other *The first laugh of the class is ALWAYS the best and establishes a connection almost immediately that reinforces the idea that the time we spend together is FUN!* Using our comfortable surroundings, we laid down and went back to sleep only to rewake up all over again.

Earlier in the week, I attended a workshop at the University of Toronto for the Early Childhood Music Association and one idea that was reiterated over and over again was that allowing children to engage using their own ideas is important to creating a positive environment. So even though it was the first day, I asked many questions throughout the 40 minute class. For example, after waking up all of our body parts I asked "What is white and cold and on the ground outside today?". Even though this is a very simple question for a grownup, allowing a child to answer and engage allows them to feel part of the musical narrative. We sang a winter version of the Itsy Bitsy Spider (along with the other three verses) and when one grownup said "Oh I wish I was somewhere HOT", I said "Let's GO!" and we sang through a song called Some Like It Hot. I knew immediately that this group was probably the most advanced shelter group I've yet to work with and it was VERY exciting to hear participants singing loudly AND in harmony! I was totally blown away and I think everyone felt quite proud of themselves when we were able to divide the group in two and sing alternating melodies. I kept rolling with this idea that they would "feed" me the next song and so as we got our bodies moving to the uptempo beat of Some Like It Hot, I thought "why not dance?".

Standing we sang the Hokey Pokey and it was fun to see that most children had little inhibitions about dancing in front of one another. We continued this narrative of being somewhere warm and hot by hopping on a train (I've Been Working On The Railroad) and arriving in Puerto Rico where I introduced the IOTW (Maracas). I instructed them on how to shake using a flick of the wrist, reciting Shake It Baby Shake It and gradually passed around the two maracas I was able to find scattered amongst the toys. I was also able to find a drum and some body bells and so we jammed to Jamaica Farewell to conclude the class. It was amazing! We definitely attracted some attention from the other workers at Birkdale who popped in to sing with us towards the end and swear I could feel it in my bones that this was going to be a special place to spend some time over the next couple of weeks. I have said before and I will say it again: this is the best part of the job...knowing that I have made people happy! As I left one girl who sat beside me the entire morning said "I am going to miss you!". I was delighted to be able to say "I will miss you too! But I will be back next week!". Until then...