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Gail Multop @gailmult

Gail Multop @gailmult

Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog on BAM's EdWords is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities. 


Gail lives and works in Northern Virginia. Her special interests include arts-integration, play, Reggio Emilia, music and yoga. 

Posted by on in Early Childhood

When my daughter was in second grade, in the ‘80s, the second-grade teachers started the morning with a piano, a teacher who played, and children sitting on the floor around, singing. The interactive song, The Cat Came Back, by Fred Penner, was much requested. Where are the routines that involve singing for the pure joy of it, now?

At the center in which I worked recently, “Singing Circle” was a non-negotiable part in the school routine. It came right before lunch. Children would call out, as lunch was being brought up from the kitchen, “Lunch is here!”, smelling the meatloaf and sweet potatoes. But keeping to the schedule, the teacher leading that day would say, “We have five minutes! Let’s sing another song”. Each teacher was able to plan her/his own ideas for singing circle, but children quickly found out who was leading each day and put in requests, which were usually put in the schedule. Aiken Drum, and Tooty-ta were popular. But so was Laurie Berkner’s The Story of My Feelings (usually sung along to the CD), and Puff the Magic Dragon! Singing sweetly, leaning on teachers, or sitting in laps, the children and teachers partook of one of the oldest traditions of humankind: Singing together as a community.

There are centers that use YouTube videos, and other recorded music, for their programs. "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" is a staple, along with "Going on a Bear Hunt.: But where is the individualized, personal song sharing? Who sings to children so that, eventually, they will learn the song and join in? The more nuanced, slightly more difficult songs get short shrift because teachers fear the children will not “get” them, or that they themselves will look bad. Searching your heart for those songs that move you, or excite you, may be where you will find a gem that children look forward to singing.

The songs you choose needn’t be educational (not that I’m against that). I knew a teacher who asked her threes to lay down while she dimmed the lights and sang Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, right before they went home! These threes learned every word of the lyrics, and sang along. Another teacher sang old American folk songs, finding the lyrics from internet searches, such as Tingalayo (without the cute YouTube video!), Old Susanna, This Land is Your Land, and Bought me a Cat. Often using a drum for attention getting, I did scat with the children, introducing it to them with Scat Like That (are you in for a treat, if you teach them to scat), sang the Abiyoyo song while I recited the story, and loved to do Girl and Boy Scout songs (‘My Mom, she gave me a penny, and Oh, I wish I were a little round orange). A teacher, who happened to be African-American, brought delightful game/songs to our somewhat Lilly-white school, such as Little Johnny Brown. Her instrument? A tambourine!

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Many years ago, teaching pre-k students about stories, and story structure, it occurred to me that since my students sang their made-up songs in dramatic play, I should share the grown-up version of stories that are sung. That is how teaching opera to young children was born in our classroom. The opera by Englebert Humerdinck, Hansel and Gretel, was one I’d sung in the past. It is usually performed during the holidays, ostensibly for children (though I defy any adult to fall asleep while watching it). The story itself is problematic for early childhood classrooms. A mother/step-mother who wants her children to die so that the couple has enough to eat? A witch who turns children into cookies? The original tale is a typical Brothers Grimm tale, based on many word-of-mouth versions going back to a famine in fourteenth century Germany. To our modern sensibilities, it is a terrifying story. The wonderful James Marshall’s comic version is one children enjoy, but at the end, the step-mother is still dead. Reading this version to children one year, a boy pronounced this turn of events, “Good!” (Good riddance to a bad mommy?). Older school-age children will enjoy comparing all of the versions, but for preschool, Beni Montresor’s version is best. And it is identical to the opera libretto.

Here is a very brief synopsis: A poor mother sends her children out to pick wild strawberries because of their need for food. The children get lost and sleep in the forest, protected by the friendly animals (children in costume), and angels. Here is the scene in the opera which will illicit conversation about feelings of sadness, loss, and how we sometimes need a good sleep to overcome these feelings. Hansel and Gretel find the witch’s delicious house, and meet the old, seemingly friendly woman who owns it. The story proceeds from there as it usually does.

The witch’s character is usually played for comedy, sometimes in even in drag, softening the horror of a witch who eats gingerbread children. After Gretel pushes the witch into her own oven, the other children that were liberated from witch enchanted cookie forms (played by the Met Children’s Chorus in my recommended DVD), and Hansel and Gretel, celebrate, singing and dancing with gusto. The mother and father sing themselves in from the wings, and they joyously reunite with Hansel and Gretel. There couldn’t be a more satisfying ending, provided you don’t mind the children’s chorus ripping the witch/cookie apart and pretending to eat her. Our children loved this part! The storybook and opera prepare children for the themes of overcoming hardship with ingenuity, and the ultimate triumph of love over adversity.

I have always shown the DVD (VHS years ago) in twenty minute installments, making sure to pause and discuss what is happening, and listening to comments and questions. Children have amazing observations to express and discuss.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

If I were to believe my early childhood students, singing with children is passe. Being a small sample (this class has thirty students), perhaps I am being overly harsh. But then again, prior classes had also moved into the dizzying array of YouTube videos for preschoolers. Blingy, fast-moving, cartoonish music videos have become the go-to resource for finding music and movement activities for young children. These have supplanted the older, Fred Rogers, style of meeting children where they are, to my profound regret. In my infants and toddlers course, despite my admonitions to the contrary, teachers use videos of people dressed as gummy bears dancing routines I myself would have to practice before doing, and I used to sing and dance in front of audiences. Up-tempo renditions of favorite children’s songs frustrate young children’s attempts to comply with the teacher’s request to “do what they do on the video”. Students say that their activities allow children to have fun and do their best, but their best means just trying to keep up. And those costumed creatures in the video aren’t going to slow down for them.

What’s the fuss, you may ask. YouTube is colorful, fun, and entertaining. Ah, here’s the rub. Music activities for young children are not just for passive entertainment. They are for forging group identity, cultural awareness, and  learning to be with others in a common purpose. In movement, teachers can assess motor issues, and learn what they students enjoy doing. Plus, a music and movement activity allows teachers to bond with children. If teachers have difficulty doing a move, the group laughs, teacher included. How much more warm and inviting this is! Relationships being the center of a great early childhood program, children can connect with adults in community and care.

I do not shun CD’s of such notables as Laurie Berkner, Raffi, or Hap Palmer. I highly recommend them, and have used them often. There are no distracting, over-stimulating visuals. Both teachers and children delight in finding new songs to “do”. My students have brought CD’s into class to dance to. I remember a little guy (now in middle school) sneaking his mom’s Persian music CD into class and asking us to dance with him! Children routinely ask for old favorites (Bear Hunt, anyone?). But CD’s can’t take the place of real singing. I’ve done Raffi’s Something in my Shoe for years, but I memorized it and never did it with the CD. It is too fast. Singing and moving a cappella allows teachers to stop, if necessary, and give support to children. YouTube videos do not stop for anyone.

You can do it! Find songs you like and share them with your students. Let your authentic enthusiasm spark their imaginations. Allow spontaneous and hilarious additions from the peanut gallery! That enthusiasm, and the interactions it allows, is so much more valuable to children than a bunch of dancing gummy bears. Give yourself and your students the gift of real, live musical experiences.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I am half way through Erika Christakis’ book, The Importance of Being Little. It is nice to read something written by someone who a) Understands early childhood, and b) isn’t overly academic, and c) isn't too gentle with the idiocies of the corporate early education model. My friend, Rae Pica, also writes with the courage of her convictions. I try to emulate these women.

The point I am at in my reading is the chapter she aptly names, “The Search for Intelligent Life.” She writes that the standards movement, which I do not condemn, by the way, has birthed a marketing volcanic eruption of pre-packaged materials for teaching to standards, everything from plastic leaves to fake logs. Fake food is rampant in preschools. In my preschool career, thank goodness, our policy was that if children wanted to play with fake food, they could engineer and create it themselves. For thinking about food, looking at foods, and deciding what characteristics are the most important to each individual child is certainly more thought provoking (problem solving; creativity, anyone?) than using the plastic foods created by the masterminds of Chinese manufacturing. Children play with their own “foods” with the same intensity. Within the “standards units” marketed by Lakeshore Learning, there are whole kits to teach math to kindergarteners. Adorable plastic cards give your average five year old a chance to “solve problems” written by the company that makes them. But as I have written before, spoon feeding artificial problems to children is antithetical to mentoring their natural inclination to question, and to actively explore solutions.

So, what is a teacher, underpaid and overworked, to do?

For math, throw out the  work sheets and plastic fakery. They are not “academic.” If a child needs or wants a worksheet to solve a problem, you can mentor them by asking what, exactly, they want to know? Do they want to count the birds on the playground? This is statistics and a math activity of their choosing. Ask them to draw a grid (you, know, lines that are parallel, going horizontally and vertically. Ask them which birds they want to count, and then ask them to draw birds going down, and numbers going across. If they ask for help, only give as much as they need (scaffolding). Then hand them clipboards and pencils, shooing them outdoors. We aren’t looking for accuracy. We are looking for a learning process. As Dr. Christakis writes, “The ingredients of good teaching and coaching are learning processes, not facts”.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

The topic for my last Art, Music and Movement for Young Children class was Emergent Curriculum. I showed a video from Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education showcasing a project on balls. You can watch it here. Emergent Curriculum is a way of teaching through student interests. Suppose a group of toddlers becomes enthralled with the worms on the playground. Teachers will observe the children, take notes, and document which child is especially interested in which aspect of the topic. Pulling books from their library about worms, giving the children magnifiers to spread out and invade the privacy of the playground worms, teachers provide materials and experiences that enable a deep study that accommodates individual learners. In the video’s ball project, the children dissected, compared, and created art with balls. Destroying and creating balls, they learned about physical and dynamic properties of their favorite toy. This project was emergent, because it emerged from a genuine interest from the children.

We also discussed thematic units. These are based on broad subjects, usually about traditional preschool themes such as seasons, community helpers, space, and the ocean. Very young children are often interested in these topics, but with a lock-step approach, teachers pay less attention to individuals who might not be as enamored. When I do a professional development presentation on engaging curriculum, I tell teachers that behavior is better when everyone is engaged. With thematic units, some children are engaged and others aren’t. (Perhaps that is why behavior guidance is such a popular topic on the professional development circuit!) Suppose the theme is farms. Teachers might read about farm animals to the whole group (with the anti-farm contingent touching their neighbors and looking out the window—“behavior problems”). They sing Old MacDonald, color pictures of the traditional 19th and early 20th century farms, and, if they’re lucky, take a field trip to an authentic farm dedicated to school field trips.

What provoked this newest screed of mine is an anecdote from one of my students. She said that her thematic unit is the earth, and that they have to teach the names of the continents. Can you imagine a two and a half year old child who has no abstract thinking, being taught about continents? My class of savvy students turned to ask this young woman: “How do you assess these children? Do they ‘get’ it?” “No, she answered, “but we take a picture of each child pointing to a globe, and send the picture to parents to show that they are learning about continents.” There was a collective groan from the class.

All of this trickery (“Can you say Asia?”) convinces parents that their children are on a fast track to Harvard. Child care has evolved into “school”, as in “What did you do in school today?” Calling child care school is part of the scam. Play, and emergent learning, in these programs, are secondary to elementary school style teaching and learning. As I’ve written before, children play with materials as well as ideas. Play is creative and a part of a child’s authentic learning and thinking. It blows my mind that, against all known best practice, a center is quizzing twos on geography.

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