The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts is looking for a new group of seven professional artists to start in January 2022. To learn more:
The sheer size of a 4½-foot instrument is pretty impressive to kids about four years old.
The name is pretty funny, too. Bassoon.
But what does it sound like?
A professional bassoonist by trade, Staci Spring knows what it sounds like and lets kids know, too.
“I can play different pieces for them that might relate to an animal or something like that, like a squirrel or a duck,” says Spring. “There’s lots of creative ways to bring it in, and they definitely get a kick out of it.”
Since 2019, An adjunct professor of music at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Spring has found many creative ways to impress kids as an instructor in the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts. Earlier this year, she collaborated—both in-class and virtually—with teachers in kindergarten/first-grade classes at Battle Academy and pre-K classes at the Avondale location of Head Start.
“I learned a lot from each teacher about how they work with their kids, and that’s what I’m there to do,” Spring says. “I’m not there to be the expert. I’m there to help them use more tools in their classroom. That’s always fun for me. What can I bring out in those teachers that they haven’t used before and help them?”
The Wolf Trap program—funded at UTC by the Lyndhurst Foundation—is produced by the world-famous nonprofit that promotes performing arts for both education and enjoyment. Through its Early Learning Through the Arts program, it shows professional artists in music, dancing, puppetry, acting and other areas how to bring their skills into classrooms and blend them with teachers’ lesson plans.
“There’s a huge strength that artists bring to the table,” says Laurie Melnik-Allen, executive director of the Arts-Based Collaborative at UTC, which brought the Wolf Trap early learning program to UTC in 2019, marking its first university partnership. “You can develop literacy and also social, emotional and learning skills such as confidence, self-regulation, being patient, being willing to waiting your turn, to develop empathy, understanding different people and being accepting of other people,” she says.
The Wolf Trap program now is working with Hamilton, Dade and Marion County schools, Little Miss Mag Early Learning Center, the Siskin Institute and Head Start.
“What we know from research is that when students are set up for success in early learning, that’s a huge determinant for school readiness,” Melnik-Allen said.
Once the performing artists get into the classroom, they’re not just standing at the front, lecturing to the kids, says Angela Dittmar, director of Teaching Artist Residencies at the Arts-Based Collaborative. When a musician leads the class, the kids are clapping and singing along. When it’s a dancer, the kids are up and moving around. When it’s an actor, the kids are playing parts themselves.
“They’re usually not just watching. They are participating in storytelling, in rhythmic patterns with their body in dance, and these are being integrated into with curricular goals,” she explains.
Spring incorporates music with wider classroom lessons. For instance, when the teacher’s lesson focused on recycling, she brought in empty containers for cottage cheese, yogurt and other foods and turned them into handheld shakers.
“Then I had them guess: What do you think is in here? Does this feel heavy or does this feel light? What does it sound like? Then they could open it up and they could discover what was inside.”
The Wolf Trap program works both ways, too. While the kids learn, so do the teachers.
“I always enjoy learning from the kids,” Spring says. “It’s so it’s exciting for me to rediscover music through the eyes of four-year-olds. And then try to come up with creative ways to connect that with whatever they’re studying. It’s a fun challenge for me because there’s so many ways to connect music with anything.”