July 16, 2020
Emily Sue Barker
Director of the Child Enrichment Center
and Harbor Montessori School
“My dog has fleas!”
This is one of the first little ditties that you can learn to play on the ukulele. It’s played by strumming each of the instrument’s four strings in order. This summer, I’ve been teaching our Summer Discovery campers how to play the ukulele, and we’ve been singing a lot about dogs with fleas.
I wasn’t really sure how it would go. I’d never taught a group this young how to play a string instrument all at the same time. One on one violin lessons, sure, but six kids learning the uke at once? Learning an instrument is challenging and requires a lot of patience and focus. But what the hey? I thought. I’ll give it a go.
What a fun journey it’s been. Because I’m a Suzuki trained musician, I’ve always believed that every child can learn music and boy, I’ve seen that to be true during the past few weeks. Not all of the children pick up on it as quickly as others, and some of them need more hands on help, but they all hold the instrument with the same amount of gusto and they all smile with the same satisfaction when they successfully complete an exercise.
Yesterday, I was working with some of our younger campers, some of which can be quite a handful at times. But when it came to the ukulele, they were willing to sit in a circle for a solid fifteen minutes and wait patiently as I worked with each of them. They were so eager to learn. Playing an instrument is hard because it takes concentration and coordination. It uses both sides of the brain and requires the musician to focus on several things at once: pitch, rhythm, fingering, strumming, lyrics, etc. That’s a lot for a preschooler to focus on at one time. Can they do it?
Yes, yes they can. It’s amazing.
On Monday, my older bunch took turns going around the circle, playing and singing “My dog has fleas” with the group, each of them giving the biggest, sweetest smile when they finished their turn. What we often forget is that kids this young are used to new experiences and adapting to new skills, so when something is hard to learn, like the ukulele, it doesn’t faze them. They don’t get frustrated like older students do and they keep trying. When they finally succeed—even if the success is a small one—their little chests swell with pride and they feel that they can accomplish anything.
When starting this little ukulele class, my goal was to inspire and enrich the children with music. That is happening, but I think I feel more inspired and enriched by them. Watching their joy and determination makes me want to be a better learner: to be more humble and patient with myself. We spend so much time teaching children--and that’s important, but I think it’s also important to watch for the things that they’re teaching us.