Aaron Calvert and Eric Hart are both talented teachers who bring their passion for music to their students and practicing musicians who make kids’ music that’s funny,tuneful, and honest. Aaron Calvert has taught at Step One since 2000, and currently teaches in the nursery school in Room 5. Eric Hart has taught in the two-year-old program in Room 3 since 2002. They team up together to play music and sing with children in Room 1 every afternoon.
Tell me about Step One’s musical history and legacy as you experienced it.
Aaron: I started at Step One in the year 2000. When I came in, I was a green teacher, and music was something I brought with me, something I knew. The room I worked in had a guitar and a piano, and my mentor teacher, Katie, played both.
Right away, I was turned on to the Jane Timberlake catalogue of songs, and their magic. Jane is an amazing musician and performer who taught at Step One from the mid-80s to the mid-90s; she wrote “Al the Alligator”. Her songs are so special because she doesn’t sugarcoat anything. They’re not cutesy, they are real songs and stories, done in an inviting way.
Eric: For me, Step One’s musical history begins with our director Sue Britson. Sue has a beautiful voice and she loves how kids and adults relate to music. So I’ve felt such support around sharing my own passion for it: when I started teaching at Step One 15 years ago, I brought a guitar to my interview. The first time I met the kids, I played them a song.
Jane Timberlake’s songs have meant so much to me as well. When I came to Step One, Aaron and Charlie Vincent (Step One teacher from 1983 to 2013) were singing her catalogue. Those songs are brilliant: age-appropriate, thoughtful, full of human rights and environmental consciousness, imaginative, with wonderful, folky, easygoing melodies.
What do you think the kids get out of singing and performing music?
Aaron: It’s really important to expose children to people who are excited and enthused about music and singing. It’s very common for people to not want to sing because they feel like they’re “not doing it right.” Even teachers! What I love about our time singing at Step One is that it’s promoting community, togetherness, and that music is fun.
Eric: Kids get so much from music. They get language skills, vocabulary, understanding of other countries, cultures, worlds and traditions; being creative. I love teaching kids that people wrote the songs they sing using their imaginations, and that they can write their own songs.
What role does music have in your teaching?
Eric: I use music with the 2-year-olds to get their energy out, soothe them, and connect with them. I love seeing kids connect to songs that they already know. If you play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for a two-year-old, they feel that they already know you.
Aaron: Music time in my classrooms is a very nurturing time with a lot of humor. It’s like a family gathering, a ritualistic moment that happens the same time every day. Music gives everyone a role in the large group, and it’s also a way to celebrate the quirkiness of our classroom. We play a lot of games through song, too. There’s turn-taking, and acting and props. It winds up being like a big story, or play, or a family car ride. We’re all in it together, making something.
You two work together every afternoon to sing and play with our Room One kids and the older children during Arts Enrichment time. Is there anything you’d want to say about that experience?
Eric: One thing I think of is the difference between working with the TK kids versus the 2-year-olds in Room 3. I counted last year and we taught the 2-year-olds over 60 songs at Circle Time. The kids in room 3 usually come in knowing 100-200 words and that just skyrockets in our first month with them, so it’s great to be giving them all the language in the songs while they are having their language explosion.
When you’re talking about TK, the number of songs we teach them is in the hundreds. I think of all the language, poetry, and thoughtfulness the kids are getting, and the emotional learning, too. We’ve been singing the standard “Blue Skies”, and one of our TK kids said, “When we sing this it makes me feel really calm.”
Aaron: All the teachers have a certain magic, their special way with kids. Eric and I do it with a guitar. That circle time ritual, through song and dance and story, it brings us together. It all comes back to Jane Timberlake. We sing a lot of her songs with that group, and they touch on real emotions.
Honoring real emotions and feelings with kids can open up your soul to love and kindness. You don’t have to cheer someone up because they are sad: you honor that sadness, because you have to know sadness to really know happiness. You’re nurturing children and showing up for them when you show them that.
In the group, singing and playing, we’re working on the skill of being together and wanting to be together, and those are the skills needed to build a new world. In that community every afternoon, I get a glimpse of how I want the world to be.