Weeks before kindergarten starts, Quillian Tourzan is barefoot and moving musical shakers back and forth to keep rhythm with his mom, Leann, during music lessons.
Little does the smiling 6-year-old know that the colorful percussive instruments in his hands are helping to develop the part of his brain involved with processing language, while also improving his coordination skills and polishing his ability to cooperate with others.
Research shows that music education enhances young learners in life and in the classroom.
There will be a ukulele flash mob in the Ashland Plaza during First Friday Artwalk on Sept. 6. Email Tish McFadden Harriss at email@example.com for more information.
About this series
Summer Ed is a series of stories about students' summer activities that prevent learning loss while building new skills. This is the last of the series for 2013.
Keep kids' brains active
Experts recommend children do the following to prevent learning loss over summer months:
• Join a summer reading program.
• Explore parks, nature preserves.
• Visit museums, cultural centers.
• Practice math skills while baking, shopping, playing board games.
Music taps into a child's natural abilities to decode sounds and words, and helps link spatial elements needed to solve math problems.
Teachers often use songs to help kids remember new information. And singing and playing instruments in academic spaces brings in a much-needed sense of joy and relaxation.
None of this is new information to Tish McFadden Harriss, a former archeologist who has been teaching guitar, ukulele, piano and flute to beginners for almost 25 years in her Rum Tum School of Music in Ashland.
She says that the pleasure, challenge and commitment of sharing music benefit her students beyond concert arenas.
"Few of my students want to perform on stage," says McFadden Harriss of the 80 students a week who flow through her sunlit studio and represent all ages, interests and levels of musical ability. "All of them want to have music-making in their lives."
When singing and playing an instrument, she says, people are engaged physically, creatively and vocally, and it's an activity that allows families to turn off screens and be together.
In her studio, she has seen younger children learn quickly, sometimes ahead of parents, and that's an empowering feeling, she says.
On Wednesday, Leann Tourzan was practicing the ukulele so she could play it better when she starts teaching kindergarten on Sept. 10 at Creekside Cottage Nursery School in Talent.
Tourzan, 42 of Ashland, already uses a flute to call her students in from the playground and when the class transitions from one subject to another.
She says that songs and music help children linguistically and can even introduce them playfully to French, Spanish and other languages.
As a mother, she has noticed that Quillian, and her older son, Idris, 10, enjoy learning music with the cheerful McFadden Harriss, whose original songs for elementary classrooms have been featured on National Public Radio stations and are included on the CD "Wild Child: Recess Time" by Big Round Records.
"Way to shake it," McFadden Harriss says to Quillian, as he moves his instruments and his smile broadens.
When McFadden Harriss teaches at schools, she says she observes shy students gain confidence by singing with the group.
"They learn that all voices are important," she says. "Timid children use their voice to sing and then they feel comfortable asking questions and speaking up in class."
Over the decades, McFadden Harriss has accumulated thousands of sheets of music, but she keeps adding to her library at her students' request.
When she brought out sheet music for alternative rock band The White Stripes' "We Are Going to Be Friends" song, she explained that the chords toggle back between G, C and D.
Quillian started the song by softly slapping on the back of a ukulele, and then he flipped it over and strummed one of the four strings.
Soon, the trio was in sync, singing, "Fall is here, hear the yell; Back to school, ring the bell"»"
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.