Written by : Emily Tibbitts
Music is a big part of my life. As a child, my nickname was songbird, because I was always singing and as soon as I stopped my Mom knew something was wrong. Music makes us feel, feel individually, feel together, it can snap someone out of a funk or help with a difficult task. Music is a big part of me, my identity. While I’ve forgotten how to play the instruments I once played throughout my childhood, piano, and flute, I still play one of my favourite instruments, my voice. It’s rare that adults will hear me sing though, or hear me really talk about my passion for music, I get so embarrassed and almost stage fright when I know someone is listening. Even at home, I get shy to sing when I’m not alone, but whenever I turn on a Madonna or Dolly Parton record my partner, Celine, usually knows I’m either sad and I just need to sing through my feelings or I’m happy and I am going to sing and give it my all. I wonder why as a child I never sang when I was sad? As I got older I found such therapy within singing. This is something I’ve been trying to bring to my practice, the joy I feel and the joy it brings when we sing and really give it our all, whether happy or sad.
One day a child approached me and asked for us to snuggle on the rock because he was cold. I noticed how Lindsay moments before was singing to him and how that seemed to comfort him. I’ve been trying to learn more songs that I can pull out during times like these, or when children have to wait in transitions and/or to help distract. I asked him what songs he loves right now, he said, “Nothing!” in a very angry way. I asked him what was his favourite song a few days ago, he told me he didn’t like them anymore. I didn’t feel like singing the two children songs I have memorized that I usually sing. I have been carrying around a songbook in the backpack that each day I mean to pull out in these sorts of moments, but of course, when I need it it’s out of reach. I decided to just sing. I started swaying and humming with him on my lap. I looked around me and I saw trees, houses, birds and the hill that some children call a mountain with Government House at the peak. I sang about what lived on top of a mountain and how there used to be trees all around with many animals and then people chopped the trees down and put houses there. As I sang about there only being a few trees left, as well as not as many animals on the mountain anymore, the child told me to add in that the trees started to grow and the animals came back. I sang how a boy noticed all the trees and animals missing and started to plant more trees; “He watched the trees grow and grow and felt his heart grow and grow.” The child then whispered and repeated this verse. He started singing it over and over very softy. “The trees grow and grow. His heart grow and grow.” We swayed together. Then he sang me “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” And then I remembered one of his favourite songs, I wonder if he did too.
I wonder when children are saying they are cold if they are trying to tell us something else? Here this child was in full snow gear, I couldn’t imagine how he could be cold. I wonder why when asking this child questions about his favourite things he can get upset? Am I putting pressure on him that is uncomfortable? I worry about putting pressure on children to be a certain way. I put pressure on myself to be a certain way, I have this voice in my head that says, “You are an educator you have to do things that educators do, like sing classic silly songs, play silly games and just be a silly educator like you see in the movies!” But is it realistic to put these expectations on ourselves, or on children? To be a certain way all the time because of societal expectations and norms. We are all such complex and layered beings, how can I respect the whole individual child, and how can I represent the whole individual educator? These are questions I think about often within my practice.
I see this child light up when he sings and I want to bring that joy he has in those moments into uncomfortable ones in order to help him learn to soothe himself when he’s cold or feeling anything else that isn’t comfortable; I want him to build skills towards resilience, self-confidence and self-regulation. I want this for all the children at Camas. But when am I putting pressure on children to be a certain way when maybe right now they just want me to make them happy? When do I push children to learn and grow in moments of being uncomfortable, and when do I step in and help? If I had pushed this child at that moment to self-regulate without my guidance I would have missed out on such a wonderful bonding moment. Because while I did not push this child to sit in his feelings of being uncomfortable, I do believe it was him in the end who did self-regulate, with some guidance from me. When the child sang the lyrics back I felt his body relax into mine, I felt his demeanour change. He did that, he sang when he was sad, he pushed through this uncomfortable time. And while I may have facilitated by singing a song, it was his contribution to the song and certain lyrics that mirrored his ideas that resonated with him, and that was what helped him push through being sad and cold. Right then and there I realized that learning how to self-regulate doesn’t always have to come from one person, I can help, while still having the child in charge of their emotions. So I’ve decided when these moments come up and a child is wanting me to make them happy and by pushing them to self-regulate, without much hands-on guidance from me, is just making things worse, I’ll try to sing; because singing makes me happy, it soothes me and I’ve noticed how it soothes children as well. Especially when they get a say in how the song goes and they can sing through their emotions, whatever those emotions may be, with all their heart.
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