This month we’re delighted to showcase one of our wonderful early childhood instructors--Jennifer Nejman--who has an enthusiastic following of children and families in our ActinGarten program. Please enjoy Ms. Jen’s answers to our interview questions below:
You have a strong acting background and you teach our innovative ActinGarten Curriculum Curriculum for students younger than 6 years of age. When and how did you fall in love with music and acting? I fell in love with music and acting at a very young age. I can remember singing every word to “Somewhere a Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz at four years old. I remember being drawn to music and dramatic play in my Kindergarten classroom as I would frequently choose to play with puppets, musical instruments and pretend play activities. There was very little in the way of formal classes for these interest areas for my age group at the time. That is why I am especially pleased to offer children the opportunity to be a part of ActinGarten!
You have a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and you work with children every day as a preschool teacher. I’m sure many people wonder--how do you have enough energy to also teach fun classes at HAA? Good question! I definitely TRY to get as much rest, exercise (& caffeine) as is necessary to keep up with my very energetic students. Besides these strategies, I believe that their excitement guides me. Simply seeing how thrilled they are to tell a new story each weekend at ActingGarten gets me out of bed on Saturday mornings. I feed off of their energy and excitement and we use all of those emotions to tell compelling, interesting stories together.
Tell us about your students. What do you enjoy most about working with such young students? The joy of our classes includes quite a bit of student improvisation, and I certainly look forward to that each week! I can teach two classes each weekend featuring the same fairy tale, fable or story, but no two classes are ever the same! At this young age, imagination flows freely. They do not consider anything to be impossible. Their imaginations have not been restrained by the severe constructs of reality. And watching their ideas unfold is true magic!
What is the funniest thing you’ve ever heard in class from one of your students? That is a difficult topic to narrow down, as they always have me laughing! However, if I had to choose one story it would be about a four year old boy who asked me to marry him! He told me he’d always love me “forever and ever” even though I was “so, so, so, so, so OLD!” It had everyone chuckling! How’s that for an ego boost!
You are very passionate about HAA’s Multiple Intelligences approach to teaching and you use it in your classroom in many different ways. Is it easier or more difficult to teach this way, compared to a more traditional approach? At first, it is difficult to implement the Multiple Intelligences approach because you must first assess each student’s needs, interests, strengths and weaknesses. However, over time, it becomes easier as you can begin to lesson plan for each student based on these findings. For instance, I try to tailor my “warm up” exercises to benefit my students who are kinesthetic learners. While much of our class time involves discussing emotions, character building, plot and performance strategies in a developmentally appropriate way, kinesthetic learners will learn these topics better through movement, physicality or playing games which involve visible, tangible items that they can manipulate and play with.
In your opinion, why are acting classes important for the early childhood age group (ages 1-6)? While teaching my general education preschool classes, I always tell the parents that the most important part of their child’s education is NOT necessarily cognitive, (math or science skills) linguistic, (reading or speaking skills) or motor (Writing skills or physical ability). Instead, I place the utmost importance on social/ emotional skills as I believe that all other skills will stem from and benefit from those foundations. In the same way, I believe that acting classes use both familiar stories and new stories to teach children morality, empathy, communication, peer cooperation, social problem solving and emotional awareness and expression. With these classes, we are building up children’s self confidence as well as their ability to understand the emotions of others around them.
Any tips for adults on how to be more relaxed when playing imaginative (acting) games with their children? Is there a “magic mantra” they could use to instantly be part of their child’s storytelling world? While I encourage a great amount of creativity and improvisation, I understand that giving small children free reign on imaginative games can get messy and often frustrating! In our class, we use hoops on the floor filled with several “open ended” items (items that can be used to represent many different props) for the children to use in their story telling. We call them “prop circles.” I would suggest using something like this at home, as it does not limit their creativity but perhaps limits the amount of mess. Allow them to help you to collect props to tell a story beforehand. Lastly, I don’t have one “magic mantra,” but I would simply encourage parents to ask lots of questions. Listening to children’s reasoning for character choices and plots can truly open your eyes to their personal “storytelling world.”
What do you enjoy about being part of the Hunterdon Academy of the Arts community? There is so much positivity and excitement from the students, families and colleagues that I’ve encountered. Everyone is so knowledgeable about the classes they’re involved in and so genuinely excited and welcoming when learning about new programs. The excitement is quite contagious!
What are your other interests and hobbies? My other interests and hobbies include art, history, philosophy, writing, reading and travel. I am an avid fan of all things Disney. I enjoy writing and drawing, and I’d love to write children’s books someday. Lastly, I am an animal lover! I spend much of my time caring for (and spoiling!) my dogs Ellie & Alice.