For the month of September, Leap Little Frog is hopping around a library theme. This third installment features Matt Heaton and his thoughts on how library music events can ignite literacy and connect parents, kids, and community.
This the the opening stanza for Matt Heaton’s original ditty “Don’t Drink the Water Your Butt’s Been In.” Humorous, yes. But behind this silly songwriter (pun intended) is a passionate music educator, dedicated to creating engaging, high quality music for future readers.
Libraries are central venues for Matt’s witty blend of folk songs and original surf/rockabilly-tinged music. He’ll play 30-minute free singalongs at several libraries each week. Many of them are very popular; and though the events are free to the public, there is limited space in the room, so attendees arrive early to get a ticket.
When I asked Matt why a library would host a music event, he explained that “apart from the fact that libraries host a lot of programming for the community, music is a gateway to reading. If kids are able to learn the words to a song and get what’s going on… if they can pay that kind of attention, it helps them when someone is reading a book to them.”
He continued, “Musical experiences are about listening, which can get kids into reading and into sharing stories. Many songs have a story. Take the song with a joke at the end, where the whole song is a set up for the punchline: it only works if you are following along with the story. There’s a great payoff if you pay attention. This is incentive for active listening.”
Having been to a fair number of free music events with our son, I know that singalongs can be a great way for parents and kids to spend time together. But I also know how tempting it can be to check email throughout the event. This is a bummer, because kids learn from what we DO. If our kids see us distracted on our phones, they might not be super engaged with the music either.
It’s a lot easier to be engaged when the music being made is enjoyable for everybody. When a good performer offers a variety of well arranged music, and plays and sings expertly, it’s worth putting the phone away. Matt cringes when he hears mediocre music presented to kids and insists “the best children’s music is just good music. You can listen to it as a parent or a child, or anything in between. That’s certainly what I aspire to, to make music that anyone can listen to.”
Teaching a kid to pay attention, to sit still, to develop an interest and ease around music enhances expression and empathy. And doing this in places like libraries might be what gets kids–and their parents–into reading, storytelling, and music together.