An Open Letter to the Director of the Hoeflin Stone House

My name is Sibylle Kuder, I am auditing Teri Holmberg’s Intro to Music Therapy class.  Before our weekly observation today, I arrived early and sat in an observation booth, watching and listening through the one-way mirror to the group in the room.   This had nothing to do with the Music Therapy session, this was just the “regular” pre-school group, doing their various pre-school things:  some children painted, others drew on paper, or read, built castles, etc.  There were three adults in the room, young women, students of the Early Childhood program? 

They moved among the children, watching and interacting.

At one point, a small girl drew a picture of a giraffe on a dry-erase board.  One of the adults started to write the name of the animal by the picture on the dry-erase board, stopped in the middle, turned to one of the other adults and asked, “How do you spell ‘giraffe’?”  – “Giraffe?”  –   “One ‘f’ or two?”  –  She wrote it with one ‘f’ and looked at it, unsure whether it looked correct or not.  The other adult who didn’t know how to spell it either said, “That’s a hard one to spell.”  To which the first one, looking at the little girl, replied, “Yeah, that’s a hard one to spell!”

Please understand that I have no problem with someone who doesn’t know whether giraffe is spelled with one ‘f’ or two.  (In French, Portuguese, Polish it is spelled with one ‘f’; in German, English, Italian it is spelled with two.)   In English, you cannot tell by sounding it out; or someone may have trouble spelling in general; or the correct answer may escape you for the moment – all of which I find perfectly acceptable reasons.  What I find unacceptable and inexcusable, in an educational setting (which I assume the Stone House is), is that the two young women left it at that:  they seemed perfectly content with not knowing how to spell the word, reassuring themselves and the little girl that it was a hard word to spell.  I find it inexcusable that the realization that ‘giraffe’ is hard to spell was not immediately followed by a “Let’s look it up!”  – I bet that it would have taken me less than two minutes to find a book in that room that had the word ‘giraffe’ in it.  – Or at least a “We’ll have to look that up later!”  –  or sending the little girl “… go see if you can find the book with the animals so we can see how ‘giraffe’ is spelled.”  Or something.


While we were waiting  in a different observation booth for the Music Therapy session to start, I watched a different group.  This group was sitting on the floor, singing along with the teacher.  Or trying to sing.  While I realize that not every Early Childhood Teacher has had formal Early Childhood Music and Movement training, I do expect anyone who works with children to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the musical development of young children:  children’s voices have a very narrow singing range, they sing comfortably between about D above Middle C, and up to A or B.  This is not the normal singing range for adults who tend to sing much lower.  However, children cannot sing that low.  What you get if you expect them to sing along with you in the lower range is children who use their speaking voices, they sound like they “sing” out of tune.   One or two of the children were attempting to sing an octave higher than the teacher which, again, is out of their range.  If you keep that up, you end up with children who learn that they cannot sing in tune because they were not allowed/encouraged to develop their singing voices in the range which is natural for children (but not as comfortable for most adults).  “Children are not little adults” – that goes for singing, too!

I don’t expect only spelling or music specialists to work with the children in the Stone House, but I do expect an environment which fosters a love of learning and inquisitive minds (looking something up if you don’t know it), and in which children’s specific needs are taken into account.