“Who wants to play some drums today? Gregory, want to play some drums?” Swallow Hill instructor Matt Skellenger asks one of his students as he taps on a bongo drum.
Everyone is getting set for Matt’s latest Little Swallows class.
Gregory chooses some mallets and hand drums, and makes his way back to his mother as more children and their parents, grandparents and guardians settle into their places.
Sensing it is time to begin, “Mister Matt” straps on his guitar and announces in a cheerful voice, “Alright everyone, it’s time for our Hello Song so let’s all get our drums and our shakers and our tambourines playing to the sound of the guitar – are we ready?”
And with that the music kicks in. Hello friends, hello friends, it’s time to say hello…
Swallow Hill’s Little Swallows classes introduce young music lovers to the world of music, and Matt’s classroom is welcoming to all.
The classes are geared for children ages six months to four years old, and weave together sing-alongs, storytelling, finger games, circle dances, rhythm instruments and more to create a fun learning experience for each child and their parent or caregiver.
While students and their parents or guardians can register for an 8 Week Session of classes, drop-ins are available and welcome. We offer Little Swallows at all three of our locations – Yale Avenue, the Highlands, and at Lowry.
“At our Little Swallows classes kids will enjoy not only playing music together, but will also learn while they are playing,” Matt says enthusiastically. “We learn numbers, and we learn high and low, loud and soft, and fast and slow. And we get our bodies moving to the sound of the music.”
The drumming and strumming continue and Matt sings a greeting to each student, making sure to call them each out by name. Calling each student by name is very intentional on Matt’s part.
“I learn all the kids’ names and treat them like they’re people, I don’t treat them like they’re little kids,” Matt says. “It really reinforces that they are people, and that they are special and they are getting special attention.”
“Our main goal is to have a lot of fun and to learn at the same time,” Matt says.
With each song Matt engages the children and encourages their participation. A song like “Blast Off” features counting. Other songs like “Wiggle” and “Finger Family” feature parts of the body and encourage dancing with parents and their new friends.
Beyond gaining musical skills, Matt touts the educational aspects of the class. “I’ve seen a lot of kids be better prepared for preschool and kindergarten from these music classes,” he says.
“We learn things like waiting for our turn and taking turns, listening to each other, (and) sitting in our seats when we’re doing activities where we sit in our seats,” he elaborates. “And then maybe up and dancin’ around when we have a little bit of energy to get out.”
“It is a great opportunity for kids as they are developing in this age range of two to four years old to also have some social skills that they develop as well as the musical skills.”
A key element to a successful class are the parents, grandparents, or caretakers who accompany the students, a point Matt is eager to make.
“Another great aspect of the Little Swallows class is that it’s not just fun for the kids, it’s fun for the adults in class as well,” he says. “It’s a great way to wake up and share your morning with some kids laughing and playing music!”
With so much singing and dancing and joking around, the hour-long class passes in a flash and soon it is time to put the drums away and say goodbye to friends new and old.
Even when the class is over and nearly everyone has left, the teachable moments continue. Gregory starts helping to put away the pile of drums in the far corner of the room.
Matt shows him how to stack the hand drums while Gregory’s mother looks on. The hand drums and bongos put away, only the big drum remains to return to its place.
Finally, one drum remains. It’s a large circular drum that only moments before Gregory and his friends were beating on as they sang their goodbyes to one another.
“Do you want to help me roll it?” Matt asks he puts the drum on its side. “Ready? Give it a big push.”
Gregory follows Matt’s instructions and earnestly rolls the drum across the room
“Pretty cool,” Matt observes. “It rolls itself.”