«A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of the ...»
The teachers all participate in intense training at the gym and through the franchise before being given the opportunity to teach a class. The gym itself is open Monday through Saturday, with classes beginning as early as 9:15 a.m. and ending as late as 7:30 p.m., depending on the schedule. (For the full schedule of classes, refer to Appendix A). The classes are designed to help children develop confidence as they grow physically, mentally and socially through play and interaction with children their own age. Although a child may not realize what he or she is learning through the classes, growth is evident to parents and instructors through the process of participation. The Little Gym’s website, http://www.thelittlegym.com remarks, With more than 300 locations across the globe, The Little Gym is the world’s premier experiential learning and child physical development center for kids ages four months
The Little Gym features a non-competitive environment where children ages 4 months to 3 years can participate in a Parent/Child class, while children ages 3 to 12 can take classes in Karate, Sports Skills, Dance, and Gymnastics. Although none of the class descriptions features the term “music,” music is an integral part of the learning environment. In fact, Robin Wes, the founder of The Little Gym was not only an educator and a kinesiologist, but a musician as well.
He continues to write music used in the Little Gym classroom each week.
The curriculum features the idea of “three-dimensional learning,” where the three dimensions are called “Get Moving!,” “Brain Boost!,” and “Citizen Kid!” The Little Gym
website, http://www.thelittlegym.com, describes the three dimensions in the following way:
1. Get Moving! - Physical activities to burn that boundless energy, plus build flexibility and strength, develop balance and coordination, and encourage agility, rhythm and overall fitness to launch a lifetime of healthy habits.
2. Brain Boost! - Designed to expand the mind and develop a love of learning, these exercises foster listening skills, sustained concentration and decision-making, prepare for or reinforce school lessons, and nurture problem-solving ability and creative expression.
3. Citizen Kid! - These activities teach life skills like sharing, working in a group, listening and leadership—all skills that translate to a well-adjusted, well-rounded superkid.
The Little Gym classes provide opportunities for growth as children build upon success each week and learn new skills at their own pace. Children are encouraged to try new activities and learn new skills during each class, but are only encouraged to do so at a pace well-suited to them. Each child is given the opportunity to try and perfect a new skill, with individualized instruction. Music is incorporated into each and every class in a variety of ways. Music is used from the moment children walk in the door until they leave. Children warm-up in each class with musical activities such as shaking shakers and singing songs. Whether in Gymnastics,
instructions as children move from one activity to another. Furthermore, music played during class is used both as a rhythmic activity and as instruction. The aim of The Little Gym is to promote “Serious fun.” The fundamental idea behind The Little Gym is to teach children that they do not have to be the best, just do their best, by ”Building Self-Confidence in Children, One Humongous Grin at a Time.” The Little Gym of Baton Rouge has been a successful operation under the current owner for the last ten years. This particular gym serves children throughout the greater Baton Rouge area, although there are Little Gym franchises located in 35 states, Canada and 24 countries worldwide. Ms. Heather and her staff of talented teachers work each week to provide learning situations that not only encourage children to have fun, but push themselves outside of their comfort zone and build their self-confidence. Nestled in the back of a shopping center, people may drive by the Little Gym every day, oblivious to the fact that it sits next to a popular hibachi grill and behind a strip of small restaurants frequented by local business people. However, drive down this road with my two small boys, and Little Gym is the most familiar sight on the street!
The gym includes a lobby, small office area, classroom and additional room used for birthday parties and other gatherings. The classroom itself is includes “the mat,” a big red gymnastics mat where both warm up and ending activities take place. Additionally, gymnastics equipment such as parallel bars, uneven bars, two balance beams and other mats and are strategically placed around the classroom. The classroom is only quiet when it is empty! During classes, the room is filled with laughter, encouragement and praise as children work on new skills and challenges.
The use of music during these Little Gym classes was the focus of the present investigation.
This case study of exploration of music at The Little Gym Baton Rouge required the use of standard ethnographic techniques and qualitative data collection strategies performed over the course of four months of fieldwork. The child participants in the classes, as well as the content and process of the musical play experience, were of interest in this research. Observations were conducted in the Little Gym classes during the spring semester of 2012 both as a parent participant in the “Beast” class with children ages 19 months to 2 ½ years and as an observer during different classes available at the Little Gym, all for children five and under. I recorded fieldnotes by hand (Emerson, Fretz and Shaw, 1995) while observing the classes as a participant observer (Spradley, 1980). I observed children in the context of their participation at The Little Gym, as well as the structure of the classroom activities and the way music is involved in the activities. I paid particular attention to the way the child participants interacted with the music while also discussing with parents and instructors how the music influenced the children in the classroom.
I conducted twelve in-depth, semi-structured interviews (Fontana and Frey, 1994): one with the owner/operator of The Little Gym, one with the program director, and ten individual interviews with parents of children who participated in various classes. The participants were selected based on the length of time their children had participated in Little Gym, as well as the classes in which they participated. I sought participants from a wide sampling of classes, including each level of the Parent/Child and the preschool aged classes. Each of the parents interviewed had a least one child who had participated in Little Gym classes over the course of the 2011-2012 school year, many having participated longer.
related to the informants’ perception of the way music is used in class, benefits of the use of music in the classroom, and general questions about how music is used outside of the Little Gym classes were included in the interviews (Refer to Appendix B for semi-structured interview protocol). Interviews were an average of thirty minutes, ranging from fifteen minutes to forty five minutes. I transcribed each of these interviews for analysis, and these transcriptions resulted in forty-eight single spaced pages. I analyzed the transcription by identifying emergent themes, using open coding, closed coding and color coding as described by Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw (1995). Material artifacts such as class brochures and the organization’s website were also examined. The variety of data-collection methods helped to provide depth to the process, as well as serving as a source of data triangulation (Bogdan & Biklen, 2006), and analysis was a constant process during and after fieldwork (Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw, 1995). Federal regulations dictate that research involving human participants requires approval from an Institutional Review Board (IRB), and this was requested and received from the Louisiana State University IRB for Human Subject Studies (see Appendix C). Additionally, participation consent forms from each parent and instructor were completed prior to the study (see Appendix D). Throughout the course of this paper, I will use pseudonyms, using first and last names to identify parents, Ms. followed by a first name for teachers, and first names only for children.
Two-year-old Brady runs into the classroom the moment the door is open. He dodges parents and children from the previous class as he makes his way to the big red mat to take a seat. Bryan, also two, runs straight for the balance beam and begins climbing while two-year-old Anna immediately heads toward the uneven bars and swings. Parents make their way towards their children, encouraging them to take a seat on the big red mat. Ms. Kristal walks in, says, “Good morning, Beasts!” and grabs the bucket of shakers from the shelf. She dumps the shakers on the floor and all of the children flock to her to collect their shakers. The children joyfully shake their shakers, return them to the bucket, and scatter around the room. Addison runs toward the uneven bars, while Brady sits, ready to be introduced by his mom and perform his trick for the class. After introductions, the class begins their warm-up activity. Today, the music tells them to walk, run, gallop, and jump. Then, Ms. Kristal brings in the parachute and the children are instructed to walk, run, gallop, and jump while holding onto the parachute. However, while Anna and Bryan are holding tightly to the parachute and following the directions on the music, Brady is sitting happily on top of the parachute, going for a ride as the children and parents walk the parachute around the circle.
After warm-ups, “It’s time to go and play today” is sung and the children scatter across the gym, looking for their favorite piece of equipment to climb or their best friend to chase.
Music continues to play throughout the class. Anna walks across the beam while the “Alphabet Song” is played. Ms. Kristal helps Thomas with one of the skills for the day, attempting a backwards roll. Bryan and Brady begin chasing each other around the mat, then Brady is distracted by the water fountain and needs help getting a drink. After twenty minutes of free play, Ms. Kristal opens the storage room door and dumps the trash can full of balls on the floor.
runs off to hide. Bryan decides to throw the ball to his mom, while Thomas decides to take off toward the uneven bars to get a few minutes of extra play. Five minutes later, the balls are put away and children are chasing bubbles, trying to pop them with their hands and feet. Addison squeals as Ms. Kristal picks her up to reach a high bubble. As the last bubble is popped, the children run to sit with their parents to sing “Grand Old Duke of York.” The closing song is sung and a mad dash of children rush to the lobby for stamps.
Throughout the course of this and all Little Gym classes, music is played from beginning to end. Whether the music is sung by the instructor or played through an iPod, there is not a minute of class that is void of music. The use of music in this type of classroom benefits children in many ways, as discovered in observing classes and interviewing parent and teachers involved at the Little Gym of Baton Rouge.
Through observations at the Little Gym and discussions with parents and teachers, I found that music is used in a variety of ways. The emergent themes discovered through this process include music to facilitate transitions, music as instructions, and music as a means of enhancing imagination and creativity.
Music to Facilitate Transitions Throughout each Little Gym class, I observed that music is used to facilitate transitions between activities. Songs such as, “It’s Time to Go and Play Today,” (See Figure 1 for
Figure 1 – It’s Time to Go and Play Today (collected and transcribed by A. Alexander) Ms. Kristal, the program director at the Little Gym of Baton Rouge, asserted that music is used during class to help transition children into the class, to move children from one activity to the next, and to prepare them for the end of class. Ms. Kristal commented, “The ‘Hello Song’ (See Figure 2 for notation) kind of pulls them all in, it’s like, ‘okay, we’re about to start class.’
It’s a good point for us to, once we draw them in with the music, to kind of set out the expectations for them, so it gets everyone together as a group, cohesiveness, just sitting them down.” Sarah Smith, mother of Bryan, age 2, agreed that the hello song is valuable in pulling Bryan’s attention towards class. She states that Bryan will …come in and climb up those stairs on the beam or he’ll go over to the bar on the red mat, and as soon as we get the shakers out, I’ll say “Shakers, let’s go get the Shakers,” and he’s done playing. He’s about the shakers, and he wants to go over there and he wants to hit ‘em on the mat when it’s time, even though he doesn’t have the timing down yet. He likes to do that and shake ‘em and put ‘em away. He’s totally in to that activity now.
Children are then given reign to explore the gymnastics equipment while music plays in the background. At the end of free play, the teacher brings out a bucket of balls for the children