Thursday, June 21, 2012

Using Lessons Learned From Teenage Moms

It's funny how the mind works. The more I work on this project, the more my brain reaches for
past experiences that might be of assistance on this journey. Many years ago when I did my first music workshop for teen unwed moms, I was sure they would all be singing with their babies by the time I left.  I went in with all my passion and usual enthusiasm, and hit the brick wall that is not uncommon with this group.They are, after all, first and foremost, teenagers!

So I went home and tried to re-think my approach. I realized that before I could get them to connect with their babies through singing, they would have to connect with their own childhood stories of song. If  I could help them see how they connected emotionally through music, I might be able to then motivate them to sing with their babies. So here was my shot-in-the-dark plan. I recorded  five short snippets from instrumental songs. They were all background tracks from movies, so the intention of the composer was very clear. As I played each 20-second piece, I asked the girls to write down whatever emotions, pictures, or words came into their heads. The results astounded all of us! Every girl wrote down a word that was spot on with the composer's intention. For example, during an instrumental piece from the "Horse Whisperer," every girl wrote down the word horse! The final piece was an obscure medley of Disney music, which moved into When You Wish Upon A Star. By the third note of that familiar and comforting  song, there was a collective "ahh," and smiles of delight on every face. As much as I know how music communicates, I was astounded by the results of my experiment. As we shared the words they had written down, something happened. One by one the girls began remembering a song or experience with singing, long ago buried inside them (the week before, with crossed arms, they had all told me they had NO memories of songs from their childhoods). As they talked they became more and more animated and emotional, and I was able to say, "See? That's the way music works. And when you sing with your baby, you are creating the same memories and bonds with them!" And then they were ready to sing with their babies. They got it! It was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had.

So now you ask, what does this have to do with Sing With Our Kids? Well, every time I talk to anyone about this project, they remember something. And they share their stories with me.  So what I learned from those teenage moms so many years ago, and what I am being reminded of now is this... Many of us are far removed from our childhood songs and experiences with them.So before we can sing together, we need to talk, and remember, and feel the magic of those first experiences. And then we too, will be ready to sing!

Please share a favorite memory of a song, or experience. Share the songs you remember from your own childhood. Maybe your dad sang you to sleep with an old cowboy or rock and roll song. Or maybe your mother always hummed whiled she was folding laundry. It all matters, it's all related, and it all gives us reasons to sing with our kids!

In my next post, I'll share some of the wonderful, funny, and thoughtful stories people have been sharing with me lately.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Research for the Project

I was raised by parents who fostered curiosity, independent thinking, and BOOKS! We saw our parents turn to books whenever they needed information or answers. I remember my father bringing home an enormous dictionary-sized medical book when my mother was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease. I think I was about five, and he announced we were going to learn everything we could about this new uninvited family member. The unspoken message we all got (not for the first time) was that there is power in information. I have always been self-educated. I learned to play guitar, music theory and composition, business management, recording and publishing, and and so much more from books. And the creation of all my non-fiction children's songs begin with a trip to the easy non-fiction section of the library (that's where all the books with only the most interesting and fun fact are housed!). So when I began planning this project, the fist thing I did, of course, was turn to books. But not the kind of books you might think. This is a BIG and very ambitious project, and what I'm really hoping to do is change people's habits, and bring together many parts of the community in a common goal. The first book I read was Start Something That Matters, by Blake Mykoskie, creator of Tom's Shoes. What interests me about his writing is how to build non-profit work into your business. Next, I re-read the Tipping Point... for the umpteenth time. What pushes us into change? That is the big question! Now I am reading The Power of Habit; Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. Sing With Our Kids is a simple concept. Rule number one in marketing; have a simple idea. Rule number two; have a simple end goal. That's easy, to sing with our Kids! But getting there, it turns out, is quite complicated. Our lives are now filled with so many other necessary (and unnecessary) activities Or as my brother says, "shiny new objects." I need to make parents want to sing, support teachers and care providers, and bring together all the groups who are working so hard to do good things in early learning. And that involves changing behaviors. So in documenting this project, I can't leave out the books that are showing me the way.. as they always have.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Shared Memories of Singing

In my last post I said starting this project has reconnected me with many old friends, and made new ones. This week I was reconnecting with an old friend who is a grandmother of young children as I am, and she said,"That's right.. we sang a lot to our children... and I don't hear my children singing to theirs..." She only realized that as we were talking. Times change, and culture changes, and that's to be expected. But here's what wrong with losing our songs, and in fact, our very voices.

For hundreds of years, familiar rhymes and songs have led children into the wonderful world that is language. They have all the necessary ingredients to take children from having no language, to having oral and then written language with their familiar and endearing characters and stories. But in the last few years, even as I have been giving music workshops to teachers who signed up for a music workshop, there are the inevitable comments like, "We're not going to have to sing, are we?" As a culture we have become so uncomfortable singing, that it's as if we have forgotten just how good it feels to sing! I don't want any parent to miss out on the connection that is made when singing a simple song with your child, and I don't want a single child to miss out on the comfort and security that is built while singing with those who care the most about you. And that's why I've felt the urgency to take on this project now, as every year I watch a few more songs slip away.

I'm so excited about this project that it keeps me up at night. My family might tell you I'm obsessed, and I might agree. But that's passion for you! The process has been interesting, and at times hard. Trying to get something that's been forming in my head for nearly a year, out and into the world with a real plan has been challenging, to say the least! I'm making it up as I go along. But I've always had pretty good instinct, and my instinct tells me the time is right. I know things will happen over the next year that I can't even imagine now. I know, because that's already begun. Many gifts will be opened along the way, and I hope you share in the giving and receiving of those gifts as Sing With Our Kids takes shape.

Please share a favorite memory you have of being sung to, or of singing to your children. Because when you share your story, it will remind others of their stories, and that will become the thread of this project. And if you don't want to share it on this blog, allow yourself to remember, and share it with a friend - or better yet, your child. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Documenting a New Project

Today begins the official documentation of my new project, Sing With Our Kids.
This project started innocently enough... I was asked to present at the Connect the Dots Early Learning Conference held in Seattle last year. The assignment seemed harmless enough; give a fifteen minute talk on my passion for early learning, TED TALK style. And oh yes, offer an idea that could change the world. Wow... no pressure there! Needless to say, my mind went on quite a journey preparing for the talk, and without taking you through all the gory details, let's just say that the seed for the Sing With Our Kids Project was born.

Sing With Our Kids is a pilot project for early learning through community singing (there's a mouthful!). We'll be building a free resource website with songs, information, and videos for early learning. But here's what makes Sing With Our Kids really unique. I'll be doing a nine-month in my own community, documenting all the ways singing together helps our children grow. We'll be singing in the library, at the book store, at the market, and even in parks and back yards. The project will kick off in the fall with multiple Parent Ed talks, so everyone will know why we are singing. Teachers will be able to send parents to the website where they can hear the same songs they are using at school. And grandparents and other relatives will be able to sing the same songs when they are with their grandchildren, whether it's in the same room, or across the globe! We'll all have access to the same songs and information. Sing With Our kids is based on a simple idea; That we learn to sing by singing together, and that in order to sing together we have to know the same songs. 

This project has already put me in touch with so many new and old friends, and everyone has a story to share as we talk about songs and how they have effected each of us. So the project has begun, even before it's begun! I hope you will follow this blog, follow the project, and become part of the plan to sing with our kids!