The heel of Quynn's red and black tap shoes strikes the floor in the foreground. In the background, kindergardeners' tennis shoes imitate the dance step.

I Am Ready: Early Learning and the Arts

When Quynn Johnson steps into the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms at Margaret Brent Elementary School in Baltimore City, she is met with hugs and big, bright smiles. The students love that they’ve been learning to tap with the artist and they’ve been waiting patiently for her to return. “What do I do?” the artist asks. “You make music with your feet and you keep a steady beat!” the students respond.

Quynn is a multi-award-winning performing artist, choreographer, author, and the co-director of SOLE Defined, a percussive dance company. Though she has performed tap dance for national and international audiences, on this morning, she is captivating our state’s youngest learners—not on a stage, but in a classroom—through rhythm, imagination, and dance. Already a professional teaching artist on the Young Audiences roster, Quynn is now training to also become a Maryland Wolf Trap Artist

A kindergarten student models a "heel-toe" tap movement by striking the heel of his sneaker to the floor. His classmates sit in a circle on the rug and watch carefully.

As the Maryland regional affiliate of Wolf Trap, Young Audiences is proud to be expanding access to the arts for Maryland’s youngest students during the critical early learning years. 

High-quality early childhood education is absolutely essential to giving children the best possible start in school and in life. Decades of practice and research prove that integrating the arts into classroom experiences contributes to greater academic achievement and social/emotional development for our youngest students. The creative collaboration between teachers and artists in the Wolf Trap residency builds foundations and fuels momentum in arts-integrated early learning classrooms.

Students and teachers sit in a circle on the floor, feet outstretched. Children imagine their colorful sneakers are transformed into tap shoes and are in position to stomp out beats.

The children sing along with the artist to the tune of Frère Jacques, “I am ready, You are, too, Eyes on the teacher, We’re going to learn.” Everyone knows the song and everyone is excited to sing it—first in English, then in Spanish.

Estoy listo
Estás tambien
Ojos en la profe
Vamos a aprender

Quynn made up the song while teaching in the Summer Arts & Learning Academy last summer, but now sings it with students in lower elementary grades at every school she visits. Mrs. Jager, the Kindergarten teacher, likes it, too. She uses “I am ready” as a transition song all the time—and her students will remind her if she forgets!

The artist is not only here to teach the young students how to tap, she is here to build the teachers’ skills and knowledge and demonstrate how to integrate the art form into their lessons throughout the year. This embedded professional development is something that distinguishes the Wolf Trap Early Learning Residency from other artist residencies.

As Quynn leads the students in an exercise stomping out beats, another skill is being fortified. They are identifying patterns and practicing word sounds like “Apple, apple, ah, ah, ah,” and “Bat, bat, buh, buh, buh.” The classroom teachers and the artist work together to tailor the residency to each particular classroomdeciding how refined the dance movements should be for each age group and which literacy skills to focus on.

“The process is pretty new and different to me but I like it,” said Quynn. The artist pays particular attention to teach the elements of her art form that educators will feel comfortable utilizing in the futureand not just off the cuff, but with some artistic integrity. “I think the embedded PD portion is a great way to keep the teachers involved and shows them how it doesn’t have to be its own lesson but can be incorporated within what they’re already doing. I never want them to feel like it’s unreachable.”

By the end of Quynn’s residency in the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, the students know how to keep a steady beat on their feet, and they remember a beat pattern and two basic tap steps. And the teachers can connect the art form to literacy—leading students to sound out words and sounds with their feet. “They both felt great and comfortable with everything we did in class and I could hear them using it after our time was over.” They were ready.

Eighty-five percent of brain development occurs during the first five years of a child’s life. Participation in the arts encourages positive growth in a child’s emotional, physical, intellectual, creative, and social development. As the Maryland affiliate of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, Young Audiences expands access to the arts for Maryland’s youngest students during the critical early learning years. Bring a Maryland Wolf Trap 16-Session Residency into your school.

Summer All Year

 Written by Jaime Clough
The 2nd grade Baltimore City Public Schools teacher spoke about how the tools she learned at Summer Arts & Learning Academy have informed her teaching and transformed her classroom at Young Audiences’ annual Impact Breakfast earlier this month.

“Buffalo Woman, go,” Mr. Briggs nudged me. I stepped onto the stage, took a deep breath, and began my lines. I was eight and dressed in a leather Native American dress with beads and fringe. I was shy, but I had done the work. By the morning of the production, I had read primary texts, written a research paper, and created my own costume. So, when I stepped onto that stage, I was not timid or nervous, but passionate and proud. This was my first experience with arts integration.

Fourteen years after my role as the Buffalo Woman, I was accepted into Teach for America Baltimore and began teaching at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School in Charles Village. My students are diverse. One walked with her family from Mexico to America. One, who cannot yet read, learns in the same space as another, who is reading Harry Potter. Some of my students come to school without having eaten since the night before. Others rarely have clean uniforms.

I knew what I wanted to do in my classroom, but I didn’t have the tools to execute my ideas.

It was last March that I found Young Audiences. They matched me with fiber artist and Young Audiences teaching artist Katherine Dilworth, and together we went through a one-week professional development class. I learned how to use song and rap to teach students multiplication, and theatre to understand points of view in a story. During Summer Arts & Learning Academy, for the first time, I taught the way I had always wanted to teach.

As part of our literacy unit, students read City Green. To help kids understand the message of the book, “what makes a community?” and connect with the characters, Katherine and I planned a lesson around creating a community garden out of woven flowers. We’d use our art standards to create ABAB patterns and connect math standards for adding and subtracting the strings.  

We had one student in the class with lots of sensory difficulties. He had challenges with personal space, with expressing his emotions, and would often just put his head on his desk. As he began to wind thread through his loom to make his flower, I was ready for him to say, “It’s too hard,” and stomp away. After 15 minutes of weaving blues and purples, a pattern emerged. His flower was taking shape beautifully. He was adding and subtracting, counting his strings, and weaving the pattern. Absorbed in his work, he sat without prompting for the longest amount of time since I had known him. “Ms. Clough, look! Ms. Clough, I did it,” he said. “I made my flower and it’s so cool!” That was the spark.

From that moment on, my student was different. He raised his hand. He worked with partners. He asked questions about how to make his work better. Without that moment at the beginning of summer, we would not have seen a change in him. The arts gave both him and me the tools we needed to help him succeed.

Jaime Clough (right) with her Summer Arts & Learning Academy teaching artist partner Katherine Dilworth

My classroom after SALA is a different world. Teaching through the arts doesn’t just work for some students, it works for everyone. I have the highest engagement I have ever had, we are on track to grow two years in one school year as a class, and there is a spark in every single eye in the room when I write the lyrics to a “Ms. Clough Original” on the board. iReady, ANET, and DIBELS tests do not make us anxious anymore. When we walk into the computer lab, my students cheer because now they know they can do it. They are confident because they know their math and reading strategies from the songs, skits, and choreography we use every day. The successes and swagger among students in my classroom are because of the skills I gained while teaching with Young Audiences. Now, my dream is to be a principal so that I don’t just have a classroom of sparks, but a whole school of them.

Young Audiences' Sun

Jaime Clough is a 2nd Grade Teacher at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School and Summer Arts & Learning Academy Classroom Teacher. Her first-hand experience is a testament to the power of arts integration in the classroom and is an example of the incredible strides a class can take both emotionally and academically when children learn through the arts.

The Artist-Teacher Partnership: A Teacher Reflection

    Written by Jaime Clough,
2nd Grade Teacher at Margaret Brent Elementary Middle School and
Summer Arts & Learning Academy Classroom Teacher

“This hit, that ice cold, Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold.” As soon as I heard the music echo into the buzzing auditorium, I knew it was time. Katherine Dilworth, my artist partner, and I put on our old lady gardener hats, fluffed our red feather boas, and strutted through the crowd of children gathered for the first day of Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) at Thomas Jefferson Elementary Middle School. Waving and pointing to our new 1st and 2nd graders, we introduced ourselves as not just teachers, but people. We pulled out our best, but simultaneously horrible moves, and leaned into making ourselves look as silly and approachable as possible. It was fun, it was full of life, and we created it.

This scene, this first real moment of SALA, is a small snapshot of what the entire summer felt like for us as teachers working with Young Audiences. Neither Katherine nor I had ever worked at the Summer Arts and Learning Academy before and we were a bit hesitant about what fully integrating the arts into each lesson would look like, especially in dealing with Common Core math. Coming into this program, I had just completed my third year as a Baltimore City Public School teacher. I was less concerned with management, and more concerned with how to plan arts experiences all day, every day. Katherine has taught many residencies all over Maryland with Young Audiences, so she was more concerned with the management piece than with planning content. Young Audiences did a beautiful job of pairing us together because our strengths complemented each other perfectly and we filled in the gaps for each other seamlessly. Looking back, one of the massive assets of the SALA program is that teachers and artists work together so that the best of both art and content is intertwined beautifully into each students’ day.

Another huge asset to SALA is the freedom we had in planning our content to help our students enjoy their experience through art. We had a variety of types of art involved in each day, from movements associated with how a plant grows to full projects like weaving flowers based on patterns to create a “community garden” like in our story City Green.

One of my favorite projects that we planned and implemented was a math lesson that focused on symmetry. Our math skill that day was understanding the value of the equals sign and how to make true number sentences. As a hook strategy to help students understand this concept, we let our class choose magazine photos that we had cut in half. Then, we taught them about symmetry and allowed them to try to create the second half of their picture so that both sides had equal patterns, lines, and shapes. Not only did this art connection engage our students so that they were excited once math started, but it gave them confidence and helped them understand much more clearly what it means for something (like a math equation) to “look equal.”

Lessons and experiences like these projects enriched our students’ understanding and knowledge in a way that I did not expect. This summer, I was able to clearly see how differently an arts-integrated classroom functions compared to a non-arts-integrated classroom. In an arts-rich class, students are more engaged, they have fun, they are more willing to take risks, and they come to see each other not just as students capable of learning, but as whole people capable of creating incredible things. On that first day of SALA, we were introduced to our students not just as teachers, but as whole people. Because of this, we were able to build more trusting and holistic relationships with them. This experience changed the way that I will teach, always, and I hope that it changed how my students feel about school and learning.

If you are a K-12 certified academic teacher interested in teaching in our 2018 Summer Arts and Learning Academy, email us at info@yamd.org. Professional artists interested in using their knowledge and expertise to transform the lives and education of City School students should visit Summer Arts Corps to learn about our paid training program. 

Mrs. Lee and Ms. Lyons

Maryland Wolf Trap Residency with Katherine Lyons

Unique and innovative arts-based strategies are captivating young audiences in Maryland classrooms. At Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City, the very youngest students are excited to connect to literature with actress and master teaching artist Katherine Lyons through movement and theater as part of a Maryland Wolf Trap residency.

Katherine creates what she describes as “hands-on, multi-sensory story experiences” by having children actively participate in the telling of the story. Physical motions are assigned to important objects and costumes help illustrate characters. To prepare for Katherine’s arrival on this day, Pre-K teacher Mrs. Lee asked her students to draw what they think will happen in the story. They hung one prediction on a clothesline.

Hanging characters on the clothesline
Hanging characters on the clothesline

Now, at the front of the room, between Katherine and Mrs. Lee sits a ‘story box’ filled with clues describing the characters in the story. One by one, a student pulls from the box a tool or an article of clothing, then the class takes turns guessing who the clues belong to.

As each character is identified, one student hangs a picture representing the character on the clothesline and another student becomes the character. The students use each of their senses to connect to the story, made ever more lively through the introduction of gestures, chants, and props. “Costumes help bring the story to life,” Mrs. Lee said. “The class is more interested and invested in story time when they get to use props and act it out.”

Farmers Digging and Planting
Mimicking the movements a character makes (digging and planting)

Once story time is completed, Katherine and Mrs. Lee begin planning lessons that they will co-teach. Every Wolf Trap program includes embedded professional development to build teachers’ skills and confidence in arts integration techniques. Teaching artists work with classroom teachers to learn effective ways to engage students in participatory activities that involve all the senses and encourage critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. This ensures that the arts remain a strong part of the classroom teachers’ lessons long after the residency ends.

Mrs. Lee plans to continue to use these new strategies during an instruction block that includes literacy, social studies and science, but she’s excited to try them out in other areas of the curriculum as well. “I may use the story box with some counting stories and to help illustrate word problems in math!”

assigning a gesture for a box with a top

Eighty-five percent of brain development occurs during the first five years of a child’s life. Participation in the arts encourages positive growth in a child’s emotional, physical, intellectual, creative, and social development. As the Maryland affiliate of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, Young Audiences expands access to the arts for Maryland’s youngest students during the critical early learning years. Bring a Maryland Wolf Trap 16-Session Residency into your school.