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Puppets and Music

By Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

20160307_095702I loved my opportunity to visit Lara Becker’s Marindale preschool class again after a few years away, and it was extremely rewarding to watch the growth of these students over the 10 weeks.  There were several students who were less engaged the first few weeks, and we were all extremely impressed with their level of participation by the culmination of the residency.

I engaged these students through the use of puppets and songs.  The level of engagement and calm throughout the class was evident immediately once they saw my “magic puppets” emerge from their bags.  Some songs that worked well with puppets were: “ThreeLittle Monkeys” with an alligator puppet and three monkey puppets, “Buzz Buzz” with Bee finger puppets for each child, and “We are the dinosaurs” with various dinosaur puppets.

I also used frog percussion instruments for the section of the class that was devoted to rhythm.  They loved hearing the croaking sound they could make with them, and they were listening so closely that I heard distinct rhythmic phrases, something that I had never heard when I asked them to clap.

It was a fantastic time, and I am incredibly grateful for discovering the magic of puppets!


Kindergarteners Celebrate their Art in the YIA Gallery


WalkerHeaderMs. Vazquez’ kindergarteners walked to Youth in Arts today to admire their very own artworks featured in the Walker Rezaian Creative Hearts Fund/Laurel Dell Gallery exhibit. They looked closely at their work and that of their friends’. Working with Jen Daly, groups of students played in the cardboard weather world: the Sun House with bright yellow spots and a rainbow gate, the Rain House with grey clouds, rainsticks and noisemakers, and the Cloud House with its soft squishy floor and whitish sky. They paddled together in the cardboard canoe, and even made leaves for the Seasons Tree.

Students also practiced what we shared at the Family Art Nights and began their very own Guatemalan-styled kite. Working with Suzanne Joyal, Naomi Tamura, Ms. Vazquez, and some very helpful parents, students also made the parts of their very own class Kite, to be flown at Fiesta de Sol in June. Working with mirrors, Sharpies, colored pencils, and oil pastels, students created self portrait diamonds which will be glued together into one beautiful kite.

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Family art night: Families working together to sew their kite.

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Miko Lee demonstrating how to sew to families











Painting With Leaves

The recent storms left Nature’s bounty all over the College of Marin parking lot. Maple leaves the size of dinner plates were strewn everywhere! Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman was inspired by this harvest of leaves. She worked with students in the Special Day Classroom at College of Marin to collect the leaves. Then using pastels in a variety of colors, students traced the leaves, overlapping them in some instances. Using small bottles filled with watercolor, they applied paint quickly and freely. The results were beautiful. The same project was tried later at a different school with smaller leaves (and colored paper), but somehow the big ones worked best. The larger leaves seemed to inspire students to work more freely and made the blank paper less daunting. The thick white paper also proved to be the ideal canvas to showcase the beauty and transparency of watercolors.

The idea was to explore color and composition using the “resist” method, with the pastel lines acting as a barrier to the paint. It was interesting to watch how the leaves inspired the artists’ work. Some drew the leaves quite realistically, while others used them as a departure point for more abstract compositions.


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All Together Now at Venetia Valley


“All Together Now” can be heard outside of the door of the classroom at Venetia Valley along with a host of other songs led by Mentor Artist William Rossell. Here are some of his thoughts on the process:

Written by Mentor Artist William Rossell

I have been leading music workshops in three Special Day Classrooms at Venetia Valley this year. I have students who have autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and seizure susceptibility. Many of my students are nonverbal and have limited motor control.

I am a firm believer in the therapeutic power of music. Music is a powerful learning tool for any population and helps develop a huge range of skills that aid in cognitive development such as Concentration, Long and Short Term Memory, Pattern Recognition, Improvisation, Critical Thinking, Abstract Reasoning, and Communication. Music can also be used to reinforce common core academic subjects like mathematics and language arts. I have seen all of my students make amazing progress in these and other areas and I am very proud of all of them.

Some of the goals that we’ve been working towards are simple, such as being able to reach and touch musical icons on a schedule, or to hold onto mallets for drum-play.

Other goals include being able to verbalize wants, or when that’s not possible to communicate through other means. For example, I ask each student to help me come up with a rhythm by choosing long or short notes and they have to annunciate which notes they’d like. We’ve made huge progress on both of these fronts (fine motor and verbal communication) with all of the students. It’s been really exciting to see.

I have been using song in several of my classes to share the joys of singing. I accompany my students on guitar. Some of the songs that I have taught include “Down by the Bay,” “What a Wonderful World,” “All together Now,” and “Sunny Side of the Street.” Learning the words to these songs helps reinforce memorization and collaboration skills.

In my classes we also use many kinds of percussion instruments (frame drums, bongos, bass drums, tambourines, shakers, woodblocks, etc.) to make beautiful music. We usually start by playing a simple beat and we follow along as the beat speeds up and slows down and as it gets louder and softer.

Our typical musical exercises include beat counting/playing, call-and-response (which we call taking turns), making/playing basic long-short patterns, jamming, and playing to recorded music. This last exercise is one of the most fun. Each week, I ask one student to share with us a musical artist that they like and we play their music and accompany it with our drums. It is super fun and it gives the students a chance to try to verbalize their wants and to participate in making music with their favorite artists.

We also incorporate numbers and counting into our playing to show how numbers and math are an integral part of music.

In addition to these tools, I dedicate a portion of each lesson to “Question and Answer” or “Call and Response” in which I play short rhythmic patterns which the class carefully listens to and then plays back to me. This tool is especially useful in developing listening, memory and concentration skills.

Finally, because we want to have fun, we end our workshops with a free-form jam session which always leaves us with smiles!


Reading Music Before Reading Words


Visual Cue Cards

Written by Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

I look forward to working with Jessica Leaper’s Marindale preschool class of students with language delays every year because her kids have so much enthusiasm for music.  Every visit begins with the students yelling, “Hannah!!!!” as I enter the room.

They memorized my daily agenda by the second week, and they cheered at each transition.  One area that was especially successful was the teaching of musicianship.  About half the students could read basic rhythm by the end of the residency, quite a feat for preschoolers!

Their favorite song by far was “Goin’ on a Bear Hunt” where we marched around the room looking for a bear to take a picture of, and then we ran yelling back to our seats when we finally found him.  They also really enjoyed playing with a parachute.  We started every week sitting on the parachute identifying colors and singing about them in English and Spanish. Then all the children would jump under it while the adults pretended we could not find them.

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a great group of kids and teaching team!