Gryphon House best-selling author Abigail Flesch Connors has been an early childhood education professional for decades, teaching kids to love to sing and spell, combining rhythm activities with math, science and literacy lessons for early learning. For Connors' activities, which easily be adapted into your preschool curriculum, check out her books for kids who love to shake, rattle, and roll!
Below, she answers your questions about what keeps her excited about teaching.
How did you get started in the rhythm instrument world?
First by chance, then by curiosity. Originally I taught K-12 general music. Then I was asked to do a Saturday morning music class for preschoolers in a community education program. They had the usual small grab bag of assorted rhythm instruments, and the children loved them, but I noticed they always wanted to do more than just accompany songs, or march in a play parade. They experimented with what I thought were odd ways to play the instruments, they wanted to pretend the instruments were animals or food or whatever, they wanted to find out how the instruments were made. I thought, what if the whole group could have the same instrument at the same time and explore and improvise together? Before I knew it I was designing a whole slew of rhythm instrument activities for them, based on their own ideas. These activities became their favorite part of music time. And I made early childhood music my home ever since.
What do you love about teaching music and rhythm to preschoolers?
I love hearing their amazingly creative musical and rhythmic ideas. (Seriously, every week I hear ideas I’ve never heard before!) I love being part of a true community of learners in every class, feeling the spirit of exploration and self-expression. And hey, what’s not to like about singing, playing and dancing with children all day? I’m pretty lucky.
What is your favorite activity from your new book, Shake, Rattle, and Roll?
I'm partial to the over-the-top silly ones, because they’re the children’s favorites. Like “The Crunchy Munchy Salad,” where children pretend to be vegetables (and they get so excited about it!) and “The Little Train,” where they imagine various animals, people, or objects that might be blocking the railroad tracks, and then we act it out with sand blocks. There have been alligators, ballerinas, sharks, spaceships, hot dogs, you name it, on those railroad tracks. One reason I love this age group is that they skip the obvious ideas and go straight to the most ridiculous ones. They’re always laughing and having a great time. It’s wonderful.
What is something about you that we don’t know?
My father, Rudolf Flesch, was a pioneering literacy expert who wrote “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” about phonics and reading, and many other books on literacy and readability. So I’ve always been aware of the importance of early literacy – it’s the basis of almost all the learning we do. I try to incorporate early literacy concepts into many of my activities.
What would you say to the classroom teacher who wants to do more music activities but isn’t sure where to start?
Just start with music you love and that you feel comfortable with. I knew a teacher who shared her favorite Bruce Springsteen songs with her four-year-olds! They’d all be jumping around, singing “Born in the USA!” and stuff. What’s most important is that young children experience the joy of music every day!