What do you get when you mix 8 preschoolers and 1 baritone?


After a long break I returned today to the preschool classroom at People Serving People. A state background check has to be done annually to clear me to provide “direct contact services,” and for some reason, it took much longer this time around.

That meant I missed reconnecting with two boys who were part of a field trip I went on in late June. At the time, I told them I’d see them in a week, and one boy said, “remember my name.”

I did, but he and his friend are apparently no longer at the shelter. Moving in and out of housing is hard for the kids, of course, but it’s also hard for the adults who develop bonds with the children in our classroom. It’s an odd conflict: You want to see the the kids each week, but not seeing them may mean their home situation has improved.

This job may not be the right volunteer gig for someone who values closure.


An early childhood music instructor from MacPhail Center for Music had been working with the class all week, and I felt lucky to catch her last day.

We use music in the classroom every day but it was fun to watch a professional lead different activities and see how positively the kids responded.

So much of preschool is socializing children and developing skills so they will ready for kindergarten—listening, cooperation, attention span, etc.—and music works very well both for getting them to work together and to shine individually.

For example, with the teacher’s help, all eight kids got the opportunity to strum a ukelele, bow a violin and produce big notes on a baritone (the surprise of the day for me). They played a rhythm game using animal-themed castenets, plunked on glockenspiels, drummed on their bodies and performed a song that entailed hand movements and bird sounds.

They did a listening exercise in which the teacher placed objects inside a canister and invited them to identify what was producing the sound when she shook it. We also did a dance together and made sounds that rose, fell or swirled. Handling the various instruments required focus and care; all the kids had fun but took the music seriously.

The activities for the most part held the kids’ attention well—one of the primary challenges with any group of four- and five-year-olds. And I could see each activity had a point to it. The kids were learning about dynamics, rhythm, sound characteristics and so on without being “taught a lesson.”

As they press on through school, though, students are increasingly expected to evolve into brains seated at desks. Movement and sound and improvisation are redefined as distractions or acting out. Music becomes a specialized subject rather than a general activity and learning modality.

By the time you reach high school, too bad if you’re a kinetic learner or would respond better to a song than to a lecture. You’re supposed to sit still, pay attention and be quiet.

The sounds I heard today weren’t harmonious in a musical sense, but the accompanying behaviors were. Music instruction doesn’t just produce musicians; it helps kids get ready to learn.