Music for the Very Young: Music, Movement and Literacy, our early-childhood music and movement program, was created just two years into our founding. Its mission is to serve Trenton’s pre-K children, their teachers and families, not only by creating joyful and interesting first musical experiences for the children, but by weaving music and movement into the fabric of the preschool day, and engaging the children's parents in their music learning.
Our founders had for years been well acquainted with the founders of The Center for Music and Young Children in Princeton, New Jersey. It was apparent to all of them that their well-researched and respected Music Together® program could be adapted to serve children not only with their significant adults, as originally conceived, but in groups at school with their teachers. We worked closely with the Office of Early Childhood Programs of the Trenton Board of Education to design programs for use in their preschool classes, which provided meaningful musical experience to them, brought music and movement into the flow of the day, and supported reading readiness and preparation for kindergarten.
To date, Music for the Very Young has been a central part of life for the children in 31 preschools throughout Trenton. Over the fifteen years that we’ve been around, some 3600 families have been singing the songs and dancing along with their preschoolers, at home and at school for our Family Music Parties.
And here’s the important thing: we don’t drop in and then leave.
For every one of our partners, we commit to at least two years of programs. During this time we work closely with the classroom teachers to help increase their confidence and skills to integrate the Music for the Very Young program into their daily routines and across the curriculum. About 225 preschool teachers and paraprofessionals have participated in this on-the-job professional training. These partnerships are powerful, and over time are virtually self-sustaining.
Here’s the other important thing: music isn’t something you just practice and then close up the case.
The children in our partner preschools begin to experience music and movement throughout the school day, not just during “music time.” The children sing as they form a line, as they clean up their toys, as they sit down to snack – any time that the teachers feel that music and movement lend harmony to the school day. Which, as they find, is a great deal. As one of the classroom teachers noted, "This program isn't just about music, it's about how children learn." Besides being academically exciting, the joyful energy the program creates in the classroom is infectious. It is a constant demonstration of the human instinct to make music. In response to the increase in classroom music making and parental involvement, the director of our pilot program told us that Music for the Very Young "changed the culture of our school." And there’s a bonus: as we grow into so many of the district's classrooms, we see a community network developing, based on shared music. With their families often in transition, as Trenton's preschoolers move between schools, they often find an unexpected comfort when they are greeted with the beloved "Hello Song" -- because both their old and new schools are “MVY Schools.” Their new teachers describe a heartwarming release of tension as the children join in the familiar rituals of music making.
In 2011 we discovered a way to double the value of these programs, and we piloted our first “Intergenerational Music for the Very Young,” in partnership with the Trenton Office on Aging. In the years since then, children from four preschools have walked to nearby senior centers, where they share their music class with the members from the community. Not only have the children built warm and affectionate relationships with community seniors through music making, but the senior centers have reported dramatically higher participation rates on the days that the children are expected.
Since its inception, Music for the Very Young has received the support of some very generous institutional funders. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has funded us in the Trenton Public Schools' preschool classes since 2002. In 2003, we were awarded a Federal Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination grant, in partnership with the Trenton Board of Education, to provide services to all 23 of the district's preschool classes housed in the elementary schools, over three years. This was one of 34 awards in the country, and the only one for a pre-K program. In 2006 we were honored by an award from the Mattel Foundation -- chosen from 1200 proposals to receive one of 38 on-line community grants program. Other important funders include the PNC Foundation (since 2005), the Nordson Corporation Foundation (since 2008), the Albin Family Foundation (since 2008), and new this year, the George H. and Estelle M. Sands Foundation.