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Kindergarten: A Journey Across Campus

Teachers are collaborating all across campus to bring a deeper level of learning and fun to the upcoming kindergarten concert. Based on the book “Journey” by Aaron Becker, the concert’s vision comes from music and movement teacher, Tara Neeley. Entirely illustrated and wordless, the book’s pages depict a young girl who goes on grand adventures using her imagination and a red crayon.
After researching over 100 picture books last summer, Mrs. Neeley chose “Journey” for its thematic elements and variety -- two considerations that helped her build a concert around the story. “One of the most interesting things about this book is that every time I pick it up, I discover something new,” said Mrs. Neeley. “The tiny treasures hidden in the illustrations are like a scavenger hunt on every page.”

In developing the production, one of Mrs. Neeley’s objectives was to ensure that students had a hand in every part of the production. 
“It has been personally more challenging for the kids to have so much agency in their program,” she admitted. “Instead of predetermining lyrics and dance moves, or assigning jobs on my own, I decided to talk everything out with each class. It takes a lot more work and meticulous planning, but the reward is witnessing their ‘ah-ha’ moments when they can think critically and make connections between their work in class and the characters’ experiences in the book.”

A Range of Music
Mrs. Neeley wanted to expose kindergartners to many different genres of music, and the audience can expect to hear songs ranging from classical to hymns to Disney. “The music is all over the place - literally!” she said. There’s a Dutch song and others from China, Japan, America, Thailand and more spanning different time periods. Students have been learning the songs all year; for example, Mrs. Neeley used one of the pieces to teach rhythm earlier in the year, then brought it back into the concert program.

Connections to Innovation 
Part of the focus on student agency is letting kindergartners create their own instruments. Led by Elizabeth Leddy and Jorge Chavez, innovation specialists, students in Mrs. Valiant’s class used a power drill to help Mr. Twarogowski build a tone mill, a colorful wheel with PVC pipes cut into different lengths that sound a range of tones when tapped. Students in Mrs. Baker’s class designed headbands out of cardboard gears and clock parts, with conductive materials and wires that will be worn to complete a circuit using a Makey Makey Keyboard. During the performance, students will use a program coded by Mr. Twarogowski to “play” their computer instrument made up of different clock sounds. Mrs. Rothschild’s students made three kinds of instruments that complement portions of the book - Copycat Land, Dinosaur Land and Robot Land. Finally, kindergartners in Mrs. Demartini class made drums out of super-sized cardboard tubes and clear packing tape, decorating the outside with original drawings. 

In addition to handmade instruments, students will play handbells, xylophones, a gong, kazoos, marimbas and other noisemakers. 

Connections to Library
Because the concert is based on a book, it made perfect sense for Mrs. Neeley to collaborate with teachers in the Graland library. Ashleigh Finn, lead librarian, talked about how she’s using “Journey,” a Caldecott Honor Book, in library class.

“Wordless picture books use illustrations to tell the story,” she explained. “During library class we projected the ‘Journey’ pages onto a big screen and let the kindergartners describe what they see in the pictures. They made predictions, gave reactions and made connections to the songs they are learning.”

In another lesson with librarians, kindergartners will take turns adding their own narratives to the illustrations. At the concert, they will read their story aloud. Later in library class, they will read the other two books in the “Journey” trilogy. 

Connections to Art
Artist and Graland parent, Bill Nelson, visited kindergartners to talk about his work and to inspire students to co-create unique art that will be part of the concert experience. Mr. Nelson works mainly with vintage pieces to create assemblages and he will soon collaborate with kindergartners on a sculpture that depicts the themes in “Journey,” according to art teacher Andrea Crane. “Kids are learning how to put objects together to share a feeling or a message,” she said. “After creating a sculpture made of found objects with Mr. Nelson, they will add papier-mâché art they created to communicate what it means to be kind, one of the book’s themes.” Art students in Cathy Naughton and Andrean Andrus’ classes are making paper lanterns like those pictured in the book as part of the concert set design.

Mark Your Calendar
All this collaboration and intentional learning come together on Friday, February 21, at the Kindergarten Concert. 

“It’s important to me that every student has a chance to dance and play an instrument off the risers and on center stage,” said Mrs. Neeley. “I hope the audience experience is magical and they are transported into the book as they are inspired by what children as young as 5 can accomplish.”

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.