Learning From the Inside Out

April 16th is recognized nationally as The Week of the Young Child™, an annual celebration hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers, and families. As we prepare to close out the week, Living Arts Detroit Wolf Trap teaching artist, Alesha Nicole, shares below recent gleanings about the process of learning through newly opened eyes as a mother of a young child. Alesha leads Detroit Wolf Trap experiences for families every week at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center.

It is an innate desire, an intuitive harmony, and an inexplicable fulfillment of an inherent need. “In” – the prefix of each descriptive word here. It is a phenomenon that takes place IN us. Our connection to music is something that translates, traverses, and transforms, all the while uniting and relating one being to another. So often we forget how early this begins for us. It truly is part of our make-up, a gift given to us by our Creator, and once we are born, we begin to explore that gift in our earliest years of development. This is the awesome wonder of music in early childhood education.

 Alesha Nicole teaching a BabyArtsPlay!™ class. Photo by Julianne Lindsey.

Alesha Nicole teaching a BabyArtsPlay!™ class. Photo by Julianne Lindsey.

In everything that we model for them, we are teaching our early learners so much about themselves and being a part of society. My son is now seven months old, and he has been part of both Living Arts’ In-School and Out-of School programs ever since he was an embryo in my womb.  It is amazing to watch what he is picking up on his own with not only developmental milestones, but also with his own connection to music budding in his twenty-six inches and sixteen pounds of joy and fervor. While he’s with me in the three-to-four year old classes, I see what I have to look forward to in a few years. They are using their imagination, singing and playing at the same time, and recognizing music’s contribution and participation in stories and playtime.  My son also joins me in an after school music program with kindergarteners, and I am currently preparing them for a performance. As they eagerly get ready to demonstrate skills they’ve learned in music class for their families, they are having many “aha” moments.

The series of classes, “From the Inside Out,” has been centered on the understanding that music begins inside of us and then reveals itself in performance, expression, and creativity.  The children are using what they’ve learned about steady beat, rhythm, using the head voice, chest voice, and diaphragm to implement all of these concepts in a medley of songs. It is amazing what their five year old beings are uncovering. There are musicians inside of all of us. 

Early learners remind us so much about the enthusiasm and excitement of just being alive. Every new skill is delightful for them. Whether it be clapping, stomping, singing, playing an instrument, or keeping the beat, it is something to be happy about!

One significant experience comes to mind. I was six months pregnant, sitting at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center for a day of family involvement classes that I lead with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. In between spoonfuls of greek yogurt and other brand new cravings, I was having a thread of beautiful moments with young children as they explored music in brand new ways. It was as if they and I were simultaneously sharing that pure, innocent, new zeal for life.

I was teaching a mixed age group from infants to three year olds. We were in the middle of a series called “Sounds All Around Us,” in which we explored musical elements like steady beat, rhythm, tempo, pitch, and tone through objects in our surroundings, and body parts.  Every class begins with singing our Hello Song, written by Ella Jenkins, circled around our big drum as we open up the experience through a sense of community and togetherness. On this particular day, part of our main activity was using the colorful lightweight balls to discover sounds with the drum in unconventional ways.  As we had done before, we set the balls on the drum, and the sweet tots took much delight in watching as the balls bounced off of the drum like popcorn when they hit it with their hands. The harder they hit the drum, the higher the balls bounced. The more hands we had hitting the drum, the more power we had. This was so enjoyable for them. We continued to play with the drum in new ways. I sat on the floor, flipping the drum over and tilting it up, and I asked them one leading question:

“How else could we use the balls to get a sound out of this drum?”

There was silence as they thought hard about this question.  I took one ball in my hand and, with much anticipation, threw it inside the drum--this was very exciting! Two twin brothers grabbed the balls and began throwing them with all of their might.  Not only was this supportive of gross motor development, but they were learning so much about cause and effect. The booming sound of the drum was a like a special rewarding treat every time they hit it using their pitcher’s arms. What a neat way to make science and music into a fun game!

In a world full of iPads, video games, TVs, smart phones, and other technology, it is so encouraging to be a part of moments of like these. We have to remember what it’s like to interact and interconnect with the people and tangible things around us. Music is just one method of doing this--it’s our shared language and the miracle of sound evolving into a sensation we do not have words to explain.

About the author: Alesha Nicole is a singer, songwriter, pianist, and arts educator. Along with working as a Teaching Artist with Living Arts, Alesha writes, produces, and releases her own music. She released her first album "Smiling Through Tears" in 2012 and her second album "Spread Love, Share Joy" in 2014. She will release her third album, "In Spirit In Truth," this year through a live recording event. She truly enjoys empowering youth and adults through the arts. It is the perfect combination of creativity and interconnectivity that inspires her to share her gifts and her fun-loving spirit with the world. She dreams of using her musical talents as a tool in spiritual healing, self discovery, uniting communities, and bringing reconciliation to families at a full-time capacity. AleshaNicole also serves as the worship leader at her church. Alesha is a bilingual artist, with a B.A. in Spanish from Oakland University, and is currently teaching the Baby Arts Play family involvement classes. She loves this company and all of its amazing people. This weekend on Saturday, April 21st 11am-1pm, Alesha can be found leading a music-centered Detroit Wolf Trap experience at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center (Mexicantown Mercado) at Detroit Public Television’s “Word Ready, School Ready” event for early learners--please join us at 2826 Bagley St. Detroit, MI 48216. http://www.dptv.org/education/word-ready-school-ready/