Walk the halls of the Key Biscayne K-8 Center these days, and you might very well hear little voices lifted in song, the jingle of bells and the rattle of maracas, the rhythmic beat of hands and feet tapping in time.
Peek inside the classrooms, and you’ll see kids moving, having fun and – while it may not be as visible – gaining some of the most crucial aspects of early childhood development.
It’s all part of a very special music initiative that Dr. Joy Galliford is bringing not only to the local school but Frederick Douglass Elementary in inner-city Miami. Galliford, founder of South Florida Music, said her research-based program reaches children at the most crucial stages of their mental growth while empowering teachers to implement music into their classrooms.
“It’s a very joyful opportunity, and it’s just incredible when you think that a baby’s highest level of brain development is from birth to 1,” she said, noting the next most significant windows are 1-3, 3-5 and 5-9. “If we all understood that and really took that to heart, we would be more intentional about what we choose to do in those early years for unlocking children’s potential.
“And I believe very strongly that music is a way to unlock a child’s potential.”
While that has been Galliford’s global mission for her 35 years as an educator, she’s also currently focused on a more immediate, finite goal: securing funding to keep her program going at the K-8 Center and Frederick Douglass.
The programs are funded by grants – via the Key Biscayne Community Foundation on the Key and from the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council at Frederick Douglass – and the funds will run out soon. Galliford and K-8 Center Principal Silvia Tarafa urge donors to go to southfloridamusic.org to make tax-deductible contributions to Friends of South Florida Music.
Galliford, who earned a Ph.D. at the University of Miami and has spent years working in under-served communities, explained why it’s so important for children to engage in the art of music.
Galliford helped lead a study commissioned by The Children’s Trust to see how music impacts the six domains of early childhood development: fine motor skills, gross motor skills, self-help, social/emotional development, cognitive development and language development.
Her scientific study found that depending on a children’s age, music had a significant positive impact in at least four, and sometimes five, of the domains.
It is a remarkable result, Galliford said, and she’s seeing it in action every time she works with kids at the K-8 Center, where she spends one day a week in Carolyn Sosa’s pre-kindergarten class; and at Frederick Douglass, where she works once a week with all grade levels.
“One of the comments [Sosa] made early on is, ‘Dr. Joy, they’re all engaged!’ It doesn’t matter what we do, they want to participate. They want to be involved,” Galliford said.
Galliford achieves that by focusing on fun, age-appropriate activities that are designed to blend into what teachers would already be doing with their students.
For example, she said, instead of having the class gather at the start of the day to say hello, she teaches them to sing hello. The students get in a circle formation so they can all see one another, and they sing not only hello, but each student’s name. They use a “manipulative” – an egg shaker, stick or jingle bell – to tap out the beat of the music.
What sounds like a simple way to greet one another is actually helping students with a variety of crucial developmental skills. Sitting in a circle and singing everyone’s name teaches the social lesson that everyone matters. Tapping to the beat works gross motor skills, while hanging onto the manipulative enhances fine motor abilities. Repeating “hello” and names works on language, and students get to take turns saying where to tap the manipulative, empowering them to make their own choices and show leadership.
They are lessons that show up throughout Galliford’s classes.
A scarf movement lesson has students holding a scarf in each hand as they move to the music, allowing them to exercise each side of the body, which in turn correlates to working both sides of the brain. Stretching with their entire range of motion builds confidence and openness, Galliford said, and the activity reinforces responding to directions, self-regulation of the body and more.
Another song, “I’m gonna walk, and I walk, and I walk and I stop,” requires that students listen to and follow commands. Again, gross motor skills, language and self-regulation are all part of the fun, as is an understanding of personal space – as Galliford noted, having a full classroom of kids moving around a finite space teaches them not to bump into each other.
Galliford said all of her activities are meant to blend seamlessly with what teachers are already doing, as her ultimate goal has a “teach a man to fish” mentality – she wants to train and empower educators to use music whether she’s in the classroom or not.
“I’m the mentor, and I go in with an attitude of fun and inclusiveness, and try to help the teachers be better with using music,” she said, adding, “I know their days are very full. The goal is to help them understand how to weave it into their daily schedule. It’s not doing 30 minutes of music, it’s implementing it with what they already do – instead of just saying hello, sing hello.
“Children do a lot of sitting and writing,” she added. “They need transitions and they need times to stand up and stretch – it looks like it’s chaos, but it’s very organized.”
She said both students and teachers have told her they feel better when they build movement into their days, and she’s excited to see how much the students are learning and growing.
And now, she’s looking for the community’s support to keep the good news going.
Galliford was inspired to seek grants to bring her programs to the public schools at the urging of parents whose kids took part in her fee-based South Florida Music program – the parents founded Friends of South Florida Music – and she’d love to make music a more consistent part of all students’ education. “Currently, our public-school system does not provide a music experience until they’re in 2nd grade,” she said, “but the brain research shows they’ve already passed through the three highest levels of brain development by then. It baffles me.”
She added, “Music intervention is an extremely cost-efficient means to increase a child’s potential during this time. However, despite these results, music specialists are not viewed as a necessary component in contemporary school curricula.”
Galliford hopes to do her part to change that. “Teaching has always been a part of my life, and I love helping people learn. Leaving a legacy behind knowing I have been part of making this community better is a true honor for me,” she said. “I would love to offer these classes in every area of our community, because the children are deserving of it.”