Creative Play

Teacher Teach Thyself
By Jennie Mulqueen on September 06, 2010

Musing - Teacher, Teach Thyself
"Process over product -  It's all about the process in early childhood - Don't push your child before s/he is ready....."  My mantra for fifteen years.  And then there I was, ready to hurl my thumb-sucking four year-old on stage so he would perform his part of the Bee in the SSC Summer Theater Workshop performance of Berlioz the BearAll my theory, all my ideology just completely out the window.  I went so far as to try and leave the room so my children (both of them cowering on my lap in the audience!) might pony up and join their peers in the performance.  I really had to dig deep and remind myself that my kids are very young and performing that day was not something that felt right to them.  I had to convince myself that this was ok.  And I had to remember that they had had a perfectly joyful week in drama camp and had learned a lot! 

Like so many parents, I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me as the nagging questions eroded my logic: 

"Why is every other kid up to doing this?"
"Is my child falling behind? "
"Haven't I given enough scaffolding so that my children should feel ready and willing to climb to the next step?"

In the end, I felt a vague sense of gratitude that I am so closely connected to programs for young children that are developmentally appropriate and meet each child where s/he is: Music Together®, Drum & Sing, Curtain Going Up, Jose Mateo Creative Dance..... And so I then found myself considering another year of Music Together with my four year-old and wishing I could do the same with my almost six year-old. 

It's so easy to get caught up in the rush of it all.  Wanting our children to be out ahead of the curve.  For what?  

Attuning Your Right Cortex
By Jennie Mulqueen on August 16, 2010

Creative Musings

This is a new column or section of our newsletter that I am devoting to musings on arts education.  There will be one short musing with a link to our blog for additional comments.  Then there will be a "Do Try This at Home!" tip for creative play with your child. 


Musing - Attuning with Your Child
I was recently reading the SSCreativeseeds book of the year: Play, How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul when I came across this paragraph: "At age three or four months of age, if a child is well fed and safe, and a mother's emotional state is one of openness and calm, when parent and child make eye contact they initiate a harmonic meeting of the minds.  As they gaze into each other's eyes, the baby will radiate a compelling smile and the mother will automatically respond with a surge of emotion and verbal and bodily joyfulness - and smile back.  He will make little sounds, a babble, or light laughter and she will respond in a rhythmic singsong voice.  This is universal across all cultures around the globe. 

What's going on in the brain is even more amazing.  As they lock eyes, both mother and child are synchronizing the neural activity in the right cortex of each brain."

Ok, I will stop there, because that is where I stopped, put down my book, and tried to remember how it felt to synchronize the neural activity in the right cortex of my brain.  Nothing came to me, and I panicked as a trickle of sweat rolled down my cheek on that sizzling July night.  I missed it.  It never happened.  I never attuned with my children. 

But then a miracle happened.  That very night - during a spate of requests for "Fly Me To the Moon", my son surprised me by asking for an old favorite, "Su La Li".  I always tell my classes how, just days old, he stopped nursing and turned his head when I sang this song to him.  This was because he had been hearing it for months in the womb as I sang to his sister.  And now, in this fitful moment of parental right cortex systems failure, he reassured me that we must have attuned. 

And I realized, if we don't attune when we sing songs from the heart to our children, ain't nothin' gonna tune.

Nurturing Creativity in Your Child
By Jennie Mulqueen on July 20, 2010

Introducing Story Play at South Shore Conservatory

The scariest thing sometimes as a parent is knowing that an innocent attempt at exposure could turn into a gaffe with dire life-long consequences.  When it comes to the illustrious “Arts”, many well-intending parents and grown ups will over shoot when designing projects and artsy outings that may be developmentally inappropriate and could serve to turn a child off.  I’ll never forget my parents taking me and my three siblings out of our comfy suburban milieu to see a European, “high art” film called Fanny & Alexander in New York City.  Honestly,  it was two plus hours of torture. First, there was the matter of the sub-titles.  Then, there was the pace; the story may have been about children, but they did not seem to be doing anything!   And besides, the kids were weird and I lost interest within the first couple of scenes. While my parents were nobly trying to give us some exposure to “culture”, it felt like a bitter pill to swallow. 

In his book The Disciplined Mind, Howard Gardner speaks of the importance of a successful entry point  to learning.  The way we approach a new topic as parents can either stimulate and inspire or permanently intimidate and revile.   My poor younger sister has confessed to me that she still has a hard time watching movies with sub-titles; I am convinced this is Fanny & Alexander backlash. Here my parents were trying to do something positive, only to have it backfire for over thirty years!

This can happen easily, so much so that we can become paralyzed as parents and leave it all to the “experts”. We don’t want to do or say something that will send our kids into therapy, right?  Right, and while I make no guarantees and certainly do not have all the answers, my new program at South Shore Conservatory called Story Play is designed to give parents some basic understanding of how a true creative process unfolds and how parents can be supportive without wasting time and money on failing entry points to creativity.

We start with stories because stories are what we know.  Nevertheless, I must confess I was a tad overwhelmed with how much I didn’t  know when I was given a mountain of classic children’s literature before my first child was even born.  I was not entirely familiar with all of the titles and had no idea how some would effortlessly become part of our nightly rituals while others needed to be presented at the right age or stage -  or face a cruel destiny wrought with symptoms of permanent stiff spine and consistent coats of dust.  It has since dawned on me that these stories are like learning and development in general: all in good time. 

Each week features a favorite children’s book with artistic, multi-sensory thematic extensions and lots of accessible ideas for creative play at home.  Class time will include structured activities as well as a facilitated time for parents to learn and share with each other.   It’s never too early to garner the tools to nurture your child’s artistic path; plant those creative seeds today!


Story Play for toddlers and preschoolers is offered on Thursdays at the James Library in Norwell at 9:15 and 10:15 and on Wednesdays at 11:00 at our Hingham campus beginning the week of September 18.

Balancing Work and Play: Hingham Journal 3/22/10
By Jennie Mulqueen on July 20, 2010

The Art of Balancing Work and Play

My husband and I are still searching for a good weekend work/play balance.  Just this past Sunday afternoon as he assumed his classic repose on the couch, I approached him with the subtlety of a car alarm, calendar in hand...“Ok honey, when are we gonna do our spring cleaning this year?”  As we hashed through our house project to-do list, we both felt the crushing weight of the endless responsibilities that come with being home owners with children, and, well, grownups!  And that was before the ten inches of water began accumulating in our basement…

Coming on the heels of natural disasters in Haiti and Chile, our little basement flood can hardly be viewed as anything on an epic scale.  But while we share the perspective that this is nothing more than an (expensive) inconvenience, we have both spent time this week considering condominium living, or better yet, renting.  Seems like there just isn’t enough time to play when you are an adult with (and this is said with a classic dose of brattiness) “responsibilities”.  Yuck!  

All this makes me grateful that my work is replete with play.  As Director of Early Childhood Programs at South Shore Conservatory, I am all about learning through play for both children and adults.  In fact, I have recently selected Dr. Stuart Brown’s book PLAY - How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul as our school book group book (more information coming soon to Facebook).  Dr. Brown affirms the same principle of play we focus on in Music Together: play must be voluntary, or freely chosen. Over the past fifteen years, I have tried to help parents understand first how we are all wired to be musical, and second how we learn the language of music like everything else - through freely chosen play.  

I’ll be honest, getting adults to play in class is no easy feat; we can be a pretty uptight bunch.  Most parents sign up for music class because they think it’s good for their children, but come to realize that it is best of all for that mom or dad who desperately needs to play a little!  When we get parents to take that chance and let go, it’s almost magical.  A real community starts to form where parents are less glued to the performance of their child and more connected to themselves and their own way of musical playing. 

So if you are a grownup with a need to play (and you know you are!) and a child between the ages of 0-4, I hope you’ll join one of our 20 spring Music Together classes which start the week of April 5.  We offer classes Monday - Saturday in four locations.  Do it for your child, yes, but do it for yourself too.

In case you’re wondering about our spring clean up date, it’s May 2... after we’re done playing, of course. 

Family Arts Festival 1/23/10
By Jennie Mulqueen on July 20, 2010

January 23

Ok, it’s me again, Jennie Mulqueen from South Shore Conservatory.  This is now my third column in a row.  I have now pestered you about making the arts a priority and becoming part of a singing family community through Music Together.  But what you might not know and do not want to miss is the opportunity to attend a Family Arts Festival at our Hingham Campus on Saturday, January 23 from 9-11 for families with kids ages 3-10. 

The festival will commence with a free show for children ages 3 and up performed by SSC faculty from 9-11:30.  Families tell us all the time that they want to sample instruments before deciding to take lessons.  An original adaptation of PD Eastman’s Are You My Mother entitle, Are You My Instrument Family?  is about a baby violin born in the North End who searches broad Massachusetts terrain for its mother.  From drum circles in Cambridge to coffee houses in Northampton, this baby violin goes on quite an expedition.  Children will see live performances of a string bass, a cello, a trumpet, a clarinet, a violin, and an African djembe while singing and dancing along to familiar tunes.  Don’t miss this incredible and FREE performance in the lobby of our Hingham campus. (Parents take note:  It would be really helpful to read PD Eastman’s version the week prior!)

Following the performance is a time to roam our beautiful, state-of-the-art facility.   A true community resource, this is a special place and it shocks me that there are families living in Hingham for years who have never been! 

There will be petting zoos grouped by orchestral instrument families and lots of chances for hands on experiences with everything from trumpets to trombones to clarinets. Also an opportunity to meet and greet with SSC talented faculty members.
The arts-principled pre-school-kindergarten will be holding an open house for parents interested in applying for the 2010-2011 year. 
The morning will conclude with experientials demos with our drama and creative movement specialists, Emily Arsenault and Adrienne Perfetuo. 

Wasting Talent for 15 Years? - Hingham Journal 12/09
By Jennie Mulqueen on July 20, 2010

I have to admit, there have been moments when I have questioned my sanity.  Like with any career, there are bad days. There was the time a visiting grandfather - who had been enchanted with watching his grandson in my Music Together class - chirped on the way out, “Wow, you are so talented, why are wasting your voice here?”  That was a rough one.  Then there was the time my mother-in-law said basically the same thing.  And then my father.  Or variations on that theme, but you get the idea.

Ok, early childhood music teachers can get a bad rap (at the high school reunion, “I’m sorry, you do what exactly?”).  People think we are basically like Barney without the purple, slightly talented at best and wishing we could hide behind a costume if we could.    If there is ever a mommy-and-me class portrayed on television, the teacher is portrayed as some over-the-top saccharine young woman who is badly in need of a dose of reality. 

While I did begin teaching Music Together fourteen years ago when I was, ahem, younger, I was never this woman.  Passionate, yes.  But silly and goofy, no.  In fact, I was the opposite, and had to learn to lighten up (I’m still learning this!).  But what drew me to teach Music Together is what keeps me in it today: a commitment to music. 

The truth is that people need to be able to speak the language of music in order for music to not go the way of Latin.  I’m serious about that; it really scares me sometimes.  People need to have a basic sense of beat and tonality in order even appreciate music as an audience member, otherwise the whole endeavor becomes a bit of a charade.  In a 2010 satirical day calendar entitled “Stuff White People Like”, January 9/10 reads: “Appearing to Enjoy Classical Music”.  This would be funny if were not so true and so sad to those of us trying to keep all genres of music alive.

Most of all, people need to experience music on a fun level.   This is what we do in Music Together, and the memory of this is what draws baby boomers to Rodgers and Hammerstein shows - because these used to be songs sung in a living room around a piano and it was fun!  Everyone including Uncle Larry would sing along.  Now, I wonder how many people even sing carols around a piano anymore?  Families aren’t singing together now that we tvs and radios and ipods, and we all know how hard it is to speak a language not spoken in your home. 

So this is why I have stuck with it for so many years.  Because in Music Together, families really do learn to sing together.  They experience the joy of that on the simplest and purest level. And because there are also the days when I will run into an old client with a ten year-old who says, “We still sing that sea shells song together” or “We are so glad we have all these songs in common with our children. Music Together is really one of our fondest memories.”

So come try one of our Music Together classes at South Shore Conservatory.  We offer classes 6 days a week in five locations throughout the South Shore beginning Saturday, January 9.