One of the many reasons why I identify so strongly as an educator with Kidstock! is the heart of our teaching philosophy. We strive to empower every child we work with to engage their inner creativity as well as embrace and showcase who they are as human beings. It's a philosophy based on including children who may have never taken that expressive step as well as children who may not have expressed an interest in the arts. However, those lines between children who are naturally extroverted and those who are introverted often can be blurred.
Growing up in Connecticut, my family used to affectionately refer to me as “the mayor” of our town because I would always try to talk to everyone wherever we went. Being a “people person” is part of who I am. I have always been naturally friendly and outgoing towards others. To this day, my family still talks about one lunch we had at a restaurant when I was a baby. An elderly woman sitting alone approached my family’s table to tell my parents that I had made her day because I, unbeknownst to my parents, had been smiling at her during her whole meal. This story of infancy exemplifies that I always had a natural inclination to connect with people and build camaraderie. This made it all the more discouraging when I developed a speech impediment in the first grade. My stutter was prominent enough to cause extreme embarrassment and I had little patience for speech therapy in childhood. The result was that I became further self conscious about my speech and slowly more removed from my ability to be myself and connect with people.
As a seven year-old, I had to grapple with this new challenge, which still resurfaces now and then in my adulthood. My stutter kept me from being as talkative as I once was. New social situations would arise and they became more challenging. I would meet someone and I would want to introduce myself and get to know the individual. But, I could not. I had become too insecure about what might happen if I tried to speak and tripped up. I became more introverted and I kept to myself more. I remember feeling so defeated. This was not who I wanted to be. This was not who I was.
It was around this time that my mother started getting reports from school that I loved music class. She decided it was worthwhile to reach out to our family friend, who happened to be the music director and organist at the church we belonged to in town. To this day I remember singing for Dr. Stansell as he sat at the piano in our church’s sanctuary. He strongly urged my mom to sign me up for our church’s children’s choir. Ironically, and I’m sure to the amusement of anyone who knows me now, I stayed in the pew while my choir sang during the first two services. I was so terrified. Eventually, I became more and more comfortable in my church choir, and I kept participating all the way through the end of high school. By the third grade, my family had found a local children’s theater, and I performed consistently onstage for the next ten years. I went off to college to pursue a degree in music. Being embraced by the theater community during sixth grade was a turning point in my childhood. I participated in the musical and theater became a place where I would grow exponentially.
It may sound redundant, but I found my voice again through my own voice. My stuttering never carried over into music, or even into speech when performing. There is something about the environment created through the arts that has always soothed me and given me the confidence to be bold without considering failure. This very sensation is what drove me to be an educator in the arts. I truly believe that nothing else has this strong ability to reassure a young mind that they can do anything.
So for anyone reading this, in particular parents or caregivers of young ones, I urge you to do everything within your power to give your child a chance to explore within the arts. They may find themselves in a way they (or you yourself) never thought they would. Or, they could even find aspects of themselves that they knew were there, but that were hard for them to obtain. Take it from me, someone who very much found his voice through his voice.
Fun fact: Many celebrities entered careers in the arts as part of the path towards overcoming a speech impediment including James Earl Jones, Marilyn Monroe, & Bruce Willis.
Quick reads about the connection between stuttering & singing:
Why Don't People Stutter When They Sing by Barbara Dahm
Why Stutterers Don't Stutter While Singing by Anna Deeter