My friend and colleague Liz Hannan is a traveling minstrel who brings her magical music circles to children in preschools south of San Francisco. She invited me to come with her to one in February, when I was getting ready to present a workshop to the Bay Area Montessori Association. This is her report.
Eve Kodiak came with me to my largest Montessori preschool on the San Francisco Peninsula. After one or two songs I invited her to join the circle of two dozen three to five year-olds.
Eve pulled an amazing metal object out of her backpack. About a foot in diameter, it looked like a flying saucer with slits.* The room filled with silent awe. Eve tapped the drum gently and the vibrations were hypnotic.
Without a sound Eve sat in front of the first child and motioned for him to play. She went around the entire circle face to face, eye to eye and smile to smile. The children were mesmerized as they watched and listened to each child.
When it came to Nelson the teachers became quietly anxious. He always does everything fast, hard and carelessly. Not this time...! Nelson tapped all around the drum with slow, gentle and soft hands. We became aware that he had remained calm and patient while almost 20 children took their turn before him – which almost never happens.
When Eve returned to her original spot she began to softly and slowly sing Old MacDonald. (I had never done that song with them). She invited them to become cows and they all got on their knees and roamed within the circle. At the last singing of E-I-E-I-O the children automatically returned to their spots on the circle. Eve invited them to suggest another animal for MacDonald’s farm, and they were excited to become ducks and frogs and pigs and cats.
The children giggled and moved with delight and the teachers smiled and laughed with new enthusiasm. The director was in awe.
The fun continued throughout all the classes in the school. One circle has almost thirty children. It is a Mandarin immersion class with many Chinese students. The classroom is huge, with tables, chairs and shelves occupying much of the space.
Eve added snakes this time. One 4 year old girl looked worried and told me she did not know how to do that. I told her to lay down as though she were going to sleep and simply wiggle. Bingo...! She got right into the stream of snakes. As Eve lead them across the entire room, they all wiggled together in a flowing movement of grace. Then they became horses, and galloped all over the room and then back again.
What amazed us all who had never seen or done this before was how cooperative the children were with each other. Yes, they bumped and tripped but no one whined and no one was hurt. They instinctively watched out and made room without any instruction.
I kept thinking of baby animals at the mother's teats, snuggled in a den. I have never seen such magic. The children were full of the joy, wonder and freedom of childhood and the teachers were all buzzing with fireworks of enthusiasm. I am definitely including Old MacDonald and all his animals in all of my circles...!
*The drum is a handmade Bhakti drum from Visionhawk Music.