Singing, songwriting, & pandemic parenting
Contributed by: Sarajane Mullins
Janine DeSouza worked for Kidstock! for 7 years between 2006 - 2013 as a music director and songwriter. She currently lives in Berkeley, California where she continues her life as a parent, singer, and songwriter. Janine has that kind of affirmative energy that can wake you up and give you a boost, even during a global pandemic. I know because I had a chance to work with her several years back and no one ever forgets having that kind of uplifting joy in a colleague. Janine is a perfect example of someone who channels their energy directly into their creativity. Do yourself a favor and spend just a few minutes listening to her “Ad Demo Reel” on her website. You’ll hear exactly why marketing and advertising professionals gravitate towards her tunes to catch the attention of people in a positive, bright, and uplifting way. All this helps explain why I was so looking forward to catching up with Janine for this interview and knew she would have positive reflections to share about creating and parenting during a pandemic.
What is one example of how you use creativity in your current career or why you think creativity is helpful for success in your career?
Wouldn't our lives be so boring and uninspired without it? Creativity is essential in our lives! I think that it's really important to keep a sense of wonder, play, possibility and fun in whatever you do. It doesn't matter what the occupation! For me, it’s personally about how you get the best results when writing or co-writing a song. Working with my co-writers whom I adore, is pure joy! I love the process of creating a song: brainstorming, talking, and usually there is a whole lot of laughing too.
In other words, a sense of creativity helps envision or fuse together a final product?
It's incredible to take an invisible idea and create something out of it at the end. Finally, when a song really resonates with someone and inspires, entertains, and connects him/her, that is the absolute best.
Do you have a fondest memory from working at Kidstock! that you would like to share?
This is a hard one as I have many amazing memories over the 7 seasons that I worked there, but I would say that seeing my kids participate in the Kidstock shows when they were older was a real thrill and a wonderful experience. It was great to see them on stage, singing a song that I had written in their colorful costumes, dancing with their art project, and delivering their lines and a part of this musical theater magic.
Are there any skills you established at Kidstock! that you feel you took with you into your future?
I learned to think like a kid and enjoy your work! I can still hear Brian's voice ringing (nicely) in my ears each week saying, "I need a song about aliens on a beach dancing" or "I need a song about Italian tourists visiting Hawaii and there's a volcano erupting!" This was always followed by "Oh, and I need that done by Monday at 8 a.m." Those song assignments really expanded my thinking fast in the most fantastic and wonderful ways! There would usually be a few changes to the original song too which also taught me to have flexibility and that nothing is ever set in stone. It's a motto that I still subscribe to this day in trying to make a song the best that it can be! Finally, writing songs for kids really trained and taught me to write in a very singable way with catchy melodies which can be repeated and remembered easily. It taught me to write very clear and distinct verses and choruses that jump out. I still always ask my co-writers in our sessions, "How does that sing?" It's really important that the lyrics flow and are easily sung. These were lessons that I learned at Kidstock and I'm very thankful for that.
I like that you tie together the skills of Improvisation, Flexibility, and Clarity. Three such necessary skills for artists to have and yet sometimes these skills are so difficult to craft during certain moments of anyone’s career. Speaking of flexibility, anything you would want to share with other parents or artists on how you’ve navigated the pandemic?
Be kind to yourself and give yourself compassion, grace, and frankly, a break. In the big scheme of life, having a few extra slices of pepperoni pizza is perfectly okay. Everyone is adapting, coping, and figuring it out in his/her own way. For me, I try to get out of the house in some form or another each day whether it's a run to the grocery store, a family walk, or a quick run. I'm also trying to limit my exposure to the news....catch an hour of TV in the a.m. and then an hour later on for the wrap up of the day's events. I want to be informed and knowledgeable about what's happening in the world, but it can really cause a lot of anxiety if I watch too much.
Any creative ideas you stumbled upon?
A great idea that I heard about from a friend of mine was to ask each family member to write down something new and fun that he/she would like to try (Yes, you too parents!) and then every week, the family will pick one idea from someone's list and do it together. My friend was dancing in her very first Tik Tok video soon after! I thought that was very cool! This is also a great time for artists to create a treasure trove of new work. As for new skills, I'd like to learn how to play the ukulele and work on a screenplay/musical idea that I've been thinking about for a couple of years. Use your imagination and go for it!
ABOUT JANINE: An accomplished songwriter, Janine is a graduate of the Professional Music program at Berklee College of Music and holds an impressive list of pre and post-Kidstock! songwriting accomplishments. A Broadjam Top 40 winner, for the song, "What's It Gonna Hurt?" (Ft. Xander Hale) co-written with Russell Fogg and produced by Jamie Foulds, Janine and her talented co-writers/producers are also Finalists/Semi-Finalists of many other songwriting contests. Most recently, "Let's Go" (Ft. Goldduster) co-written with Cassandra Howell and produced by Bill Lefler, became the tune of a Regional McDonald's ad. The song, "Army of One" (Ft. Xander Hale), co-written/produced by Jamie Foulds and also co-written with Cassandra Howell, has also been used in the "Race the Storm" episode of "Bering Sea Gold (Discovery Channel), a musical she put forth called “A Brand New Day” hit the stage for her 40th birthday and the song, "Can't Break Me (Ft. Xander Hale) co-written/produced by Jamie Foulds and also co-written with Gil Polk, has been used in 2 online ads (Nova Scotia Tourism & Truman's Cleaning Products). Although Janine wrote all of her Kidstock! songs and many others solo, she loves co-writing and is the first to point out that it's a team effort involving many different elements from the very beginning inklings and concept of a song idea to the final lyrics, melody, vocals, and production. She is always incredibly thankful to everyone involved as the goal is to always create the best song possible. To read more about Janine and keep up with her after this interview you can visit her website at www.janinedesouza.com.
by Sarajane Mullins, LMHC
This blog article originally appeared here on the Act of Wellness blog.
While the uncertainties of public and private education will undoubtedly continue into the fall and beyond, one thing is for sure: online enrichment classes and activities will remain an option for many throughout the next year.
If it now suddenly seems that everyone is teaching online, it is because it’s true. Parents who were once limited to signing up for enrichment classes within driving distance now suddenly have thousands of classes to choose from in all 50 states. If you have searched for an online enrichment class for your child recently, you’ll notice that the search results on any parent website have extended either nationally or internationally to highlight the expansive options.
With so many opportunities, there are a few key things to consider and three imperative things to look for in the coming months. Online teaching isn’t new anymore and as we head into the 5th month of the pandemic, there are three key considerations of what to expect from experienced programs at this point.
In a time where isolation and remote activities are going on far longer than any of us hoped, it’s no secret that it’s hard to be as active as we would be if we could do classes in person. Therefore, it’s important that any online class has a physical component. Last year, yoga got some good press for being widely utilized as a successful alternative to detention in schools. In fact, even before COVID-19, it was widely known that sedentary classroom setups were negatively affecting learning and working environments. We weren’t developing standing desks, bouncing chairs, and encouraging walks on lunch breaks just for the fun of it. Teachers who coach students through physical exercises and mindfulness techniques when their classroom learning is otherwise sedentary have more engaged, interactive students. Especially if the class is an academic topic that isn’t innately physically active, find out if the instructor incorporates a stretch break, some mindfulness, or anything physical.
The most experienced online teachers know that eye care is a big part of online teaching. Look for teachers who subtly work eye care into class for their students. At Kidstock! Creative Theater, instructor Mara Stewart has been leading her students of all ages through facial stretches. “I ask them to squint their eyes shut tightly, look up, look down, and right to left. These exercises are traditionally part of classical physical acting warm ups but they are even more necessary now for students who are spending hours online.” Stewart and her colleagues remind students to look other places during class besides the screen, often encouraging them to use the “whole room,” switch positions, or blink. All of these techniques are supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics as guidelines of what adults can do to help support the eye health of children.
The Device Gap
There is a huge gap between devices with platforms like Zoom. What one person sees on their Ipad can look entirely different on a Chromebook and even more so different on a laptop. While it’s important to know your own device, or your child’s device before heading into a Zoom class, teaching teams who are not aware of the device gap are significantly challenged. Before signing up for an online class, check to see if the teachers have any online policies or explanations of resources. If they do, they’ve likely thought ahead and been through this before. If not, you might be in for a rough first class with a dozen other families who are not prepared. Think of the literature that the teachers give out beforehand similar to the syllabus or the supply list that you might get before an in person class. It’s the sign of a well prepared, functional team and equates a group of families who have access to the info they need to start learning. Without this preparation, part of the first class may feel more like a frustrating group Zoom tutorial and this many months into the pandemic, that’s likely not the lesson you signed up for.
by Sarajane Mullins, LMHC
This blog article originally appeared here on the Act of Wellness blog.
3 values our children will use to adapt, thrive, and survive
In the society our nation boasted just a short time ago, there were a variety of ways we celebrated events, especially when they are meant to celebrate rites of passage like an anniversary or a birthday. How and when and with whom you celebrated varied based on family dynamic, socio-economic ability, and resources. However, if we look at how these events have evolved over centuries, history is a reminder of the values which inspired these celebrations in the first place. These values are not all based on our ability to go out, be with a gathering of people, or have financial resources. Three main values stick out as what our children can cling to during this time.
#1-Connection- This word sounds so obvious that it is easy to take the concept for granted. The heart of any event, especially if it celebrates a person or a milestone, is that we make extra efforts to connect with that specific person of focus. Why did we all dress up as aliens for Jake's birthday? Because we all know he loves outer space! Sure, most of the ways we connected with people two months ago were based on our unlimited access to the greater world outside our homes. It's okay to acknowledge that we were looking forward to an outer space themed birthday party at the Museum of Science with Jake's entire class. And, it’s possible that nothing inside one’s home can match the excitement of say, a waterpark. But, even those places and things didn’t take the place of connection before. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that our consumable media was full of messages that highlighted how impersonal, over-scheduled, and dangerously busy our lives were. Here's an article from just last summer which warns of the burn out of being busy. With places to be and things to see, we made connecting really easy for our kids. We showed up to a themed event where much of the thought process was done for us and for them. That wasn't wrong but it was a short cut to actual connection. Now, we have the opportunity to put a little more work into the connection. In many ways, the world we have now might be one where our children can connect more thoughtfully than ever before. When they have to get creative about how to connect with each other, there is a greater likelihood that the connections they establish are individualized and meaningful.
#2-Surprise- Events and celebrations almost always carry some element of surprise. Gifts and presentations, by nature, are a sort of surprise. We’re not always sure what we’re about to unwrap. While we may have gotten used to gifting things like surprise parties, concerts, or travel, the core value of surprise is not attached to those luxuries. We can still surprise people by writing them a silly poem, decorating their room with drawings of their favorite animal, or declaring an entire day dedicated to allowing them to be the leader or make the decisions. Children are excellent at this because their imagination is still widely accessible to them. In fact, you might be surprised at your child's willingness to engage with non material ideas. The chance to be in charge for a day, to make specific decisions, and to create a vision are all things our children are hard wired to see as valuable. Encourage children to use their imaginations and create surprises for others. Ask them to predict what surprises the other person might actually enjoy. Explore the joy of a long planned, and carefully thought out reveal.
#3-Tradition- This time is an opportunity to delve deep into family traditions or establish them for the first time. The beautiful thing that we often forget about traditions is that they are engineered by design to survive years of changing resources. Recently, a client told me how her family’s unusual tradition evolved when her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia. Every Thanksgiving holiday, the family had looked forward to eating Grandma’s same beautiful roasted turkey meal from the same family recipe they had been enjoying for years. That particular year, Grandma awoke that morning and announced she'd be making pizza pies, no turkey. Her dementia left her unable to remember her own fifty year tradition. This was incredibly difficult and sad for the family, as this was a moment where many of them had to accept the reality of her progressing illness. Yet, Grandma was unaware and proceeded proudly, as if it had always been her plan, to make pizzas from scratch. After the initial shock, the family found themselves with no choice but to adapt. While they were initially sad, everyone was forced to adapt that day because there was no stopping Grandma. Her pizza was ready and eventually, people started eating and their tradition evolved. They agreed from that point on, it would be their ritual that the Thanksgiving chef would not announce the family meal until Thanksgiving morning. This unusual tradition became a way to honor Grandma’s memory after she passed and has been the source for many family jokes and pranks. The designated family chef rotates annually and the surprise announcements have ranged from Indian take out to gourmet cheese boards. They always remember Grandma affectionately on Thanksgiving morning. And whenever someone brings their new significant other to Thanksgiving, everyone participates in a dramatic retelling of the morning Grandma announced, "I'm sick of turkey. I'm making pizza pies."
Out of change and loss comes the ability to adapt. We have this resilience if we allow ourselves to access it. This doesn’t mean we don’t pause to process our emotions, especially in the face of loss or disappointment. It only means that our emotions are a part of our journey in the present which moves us forward. For our children, this moment is one where they have the ability to adapt, likely much easier than we do. We may see the pain of parting with how things used to be as we watch the "new normal" emerge. Keep in mind that our children will author their own story and they aren't finished yet. Their version may include family jokes, Thanksgiving pizzas, and that one incredible year where we turned the bathroom into an alien themed waterpark for Jake's birthday.
contributed by Victoria Isotti
Music is one of my favorite forms of art. As a performer, it's been a way to express myself. As a teacher, it's undoubtedly the most effective way for me to relax after a long day. We all have heard about the science to support students learning music in early education. Taking lessons, learning to read music, and even been exposed to music in the womb all have numerous studies to back up the short and long term benefits of learning music. But what about the simple presence of music in the classroom? Playing music in the background of class can help with memorization, increase concentration, and I've even used it to boost creativity and imagination during classroom activities. A child doesn't have to be in a specific music class or interested in playing an instrument to gain the benefits of music exposure.
Searching for classroom music can often be a challenge. With censorship decreasing in popularity, students are often attracted to the tunes they hear on car radios, on TV, and the tunes they hear the adults in their lives listening to. Not every Top 40 song is appropriate to start playing in a classroom for first and second graders. The top requests from students are most often the music they hear older siblings and friends belting out. It was clear this year that my students were looking to jam out to the same tunes I was listening to outside the classroom. Therefore, I took on this school year with plans to integrate one of my own favorite adult playlists into the classroom.
Below is a playlist of the big hit songs of 2019. I adapted the list directly into a classroom friendly version. If you're looking for these tunes, both of these playlists are filled with songs easy to find on both on Spotify and Apple Music.
Adult Pop Playlist
1. Bad Guy- Billie Eilish
2. Believer- Imagine Dragons
3. Shake It Off- Taylor Swift
4. No Tears Left to Cry- Ariana Grande
5. Havana- Camila Cabello
6. Something Just Like This-The Chainsmokers and Coldplay
7. Beautiful People- Ed Sheeran
8. I Like It- Cardi B
9. Boy With Luv- BTS ft. Halsey
10. Truth Hurts- Lizzo
Classroom Friendly Version
1. Bad Guy- Vitamin String Quartet
2. Believer- Imagine Dragons
3. Shake It Off- Sing the movie
4. No Tears Left to Cry- Ariana Grande
5. Havana- Kidz Bop Kids
6. Something Just Like This- The Chainsmokers and Coldplay
7. Beautiful People- Ed Sheeran
8. I Like It- Piano Dreamers
9. Boy With Luv- BTS ft. Halsey
10. Truth Hurts- Kidz Bop Kids
A note from the editor:
Looking for more science on music and students? Click here to read a complete study on the integration of music in elementary classroom settings.
contributed by Charlie Baird
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
Contributed by Mara Stewart
Nothing is better than snuggling up with a good book before bed. Story time is a wonderful way to connect and end the day with your child, but what turns a good story into a good opportunity for engagement?
Use these 5 quick tips to make your child’s story time more engaging.
Lastly, celebrating stories can provide endless opportunities for keeping busy around the house. Create your own family story time and explore literature that has influenced popular culture. Perhaps you have seen the movie Wizard of Oz or Peter Pan but have you read the classic children’s novel that inspired the film? Are there short fables in other cultures that resemble your favorite fairy tale? Get the entire family involved and continue the adventure together each evening. You might be surprised which of your favorite tales have inspired musicals, novels, cartoons, artwork and much more.
Out of creative resources? The internet is a wonderful resource to celebrate books. Many children's authors have their own websites, links, ideas, and followings online to help inspire you.
Books We Love
Journey by Aaron Becker
The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague
Big Surprise for Little Card by Charise Mericle Harper
How Droofus the Dragon Lost his Head by Bill Pete
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch