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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.
This month we’re excited to showcase Emily Gouse, who takes Piano Lessons and participates in HAA’s popular ActinGarten program. With just a bit of help from her Mom, Emily gave some wonderful answers to questions we asked her:
How old are you, and when did you first join Hunterdon Academy of the Arts? Emily Gouse is 6. She started Musikgarten in Dec. 2011 when she was 19 months old.
Who are your HAA teachers? She had 5 wonderful years with Mrs. E as her teacher for Musikgarten. For the past year, she has had the terrific Miss Jen for ActinGarten and will continue the program in the fall (and hopefully summer). She just started Piano lessons with the talented Mr Joel and will also have him as a teacher for Show Kids Choir in the fall.
What did you like about your Musikgarten classes? I like when I am learning about the music notes. Mrs. E was a fun teacher. I also like to play instruments and perform in ensembles. The Musikgarten CD was nice to listen to. This year we learned about music from different countries and Mrs. E sometimes made us food to go along with the countries- shortbread from the British Isles was the best. Sometimes the parents performed dances with us. That was fun too.
What do you like about your ActinGarten class? I like when we act out stories. My favorite was when we acted out Peter Pan. One week I got to play Wendy and the next week I got to play Peter Pan. It was fun getting to play different characters from the same story. I liked miss Jen because she made the class so much fun. Another thing I enjoyed was learning how to bow and understanding the difference between upstage and downstage. Miss Jen gave us stamps at the end of class. I liked that part too.
Emily, you just started taking piano lessons, too. Why did you choose piano? What’s so special about it? :-) I chose piano because it sounded fun when Mrs. E told me about it. I also want to learn how to play the violin and guitar but I have to learn how to play the piano first. One reason I wanted to play the piano is because I like the sound. So far, piano is a great instrument to learn. Some of the things Mrs. E taught me in Musikgarten are the same like note heads and the way music looks on the page. Mr. Joel makes learning really fun. I have homework to practice so that I can get good at playing.
Question for Emily’s Mom, Jenny: your family seems to find performing arts education to be very important. In what way do you believe Emily has benefited from taking these classes? In so many ways! However, I especially see that her confidence to perform both in ensemble work and individually has really blossomed. Her ability to really ‘hear’ has been nurtured. It’s common for her to pause while playing outside to listen to birds and leaves rustling- quiet and subtle things that you have to pay attention to. In addition, when listening to music she can identify when an instrument or vocalist is playing or singing louder or softer and she can match that with her voice. Musikgarten has made her much more aware of the world around her. Recently, Miss Jen told me that Emily immediately recognized the score to Pocahontas playing in the background during acting class- another example of having trained ears. She has also learned the importance of each person’s part in group performance by performing ensemble pieces in Musikgarten and through group story-telling in ActinGarten. I like that she is learning that each person contributes something of value to the whole. It’s wonderful that Emily is exposed to a wide variety of musical styles, instruments and acting approaches. This past weekend, we saw a live musical. Before the performance, Emily looked into the orchestra pit and named each section and identified most of the instruments. That would not have been possible without her musical training at HAA.
You’ve been with us for quite a few years. What do you like about being part of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts? I have found HAA to be extremely welcoming, supportive and inspiring. It is a safe, non-competative and encouraging place for my child to grow musically and theatrically. I also like the variety of programs offered and that each class is truly age-appropriate- we are especially happy for HAA’s addition of ActinGarten this past year.
What kind of music does Emily like to listen to in her free time? Emily loves musical soundtracks from Broadway shows like Peter Pan. She also enjoys listening to last year’s Vacation Bible School cd, Sofia the First soundtrack, and the Musikgarten CD of the quarter. She always sings along even if it is an instrumental.
Emily, what would you like to be when you grow up? A vet, an actress and a singer.
Other than music and acting, what are your favorite activities? Lyrical dance class, swimming class, running in the yard with my friends and school.
What else would you like to tell us about yourself? I like to write and illustrate books and act out my favorite movies like Peter Pan Live, Narnia, Cinderella and Tangled. I set up all of my character’s props before starting and then act out the stories. And I like to act out my favorite books. I also like to sing and make up my own songs. I have a pet cat named Gus. He is an orange tabby and I have a hermit crab named Heart. She wears a purple shell with a Shamrock. I enjoy reading books. My friends are very special to me and I enjoy doing fun things with them on the weekends like going to the zoo, farm and the beach. My dream is to have a pet horse and to be able to play the piano for it.