URI Child Development Center uses song to educate students

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Community sing helps children learn about fairness, equality

KINGSTON, R.I. – September 22, 2008 – Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candlestick. Jill be nimble, jump it too. If Jack can do it, so can you.

With an anti-bias twist on the classic Mother Goose nursery rhyme, the line is one of the lyrics that will be sung during the University of Rhode Island Child Development Center Community Sing. It is an example of how the center uses song to educate its children on issues of equality and fairness.

The event, part of the school’s Diversity Week programming, will be held on Thursday, Sept. 25 at the Multicultural Center on the Kingston campus at 10 a.m. The center – run through the College of Human Development and Family Studies – enrolls more than 30 children age 3-5. The children will sing along with teachers, URI students and other community members at the event. There are 20 children in the preschool program, and 13 more in the PreK/kindergarten mixed age group.

“One of the missions of the Child Development Center is to support our children in understanding that there is diversity in the world,” said Sue Warford, coordinator of the Kingston Child Development Center. “We help teach the children that people are similar in some ways, and different in others.”

The center holds a singing session each Friday, but Thursday’s event will be special. The songs chosen for the event will incorporate different languages and also will challenge cultural and sexist biases.

The community sing will open with the Hello Song, in which the children will greet each other in several languages, starting with English, and then incorporating greetings in Chinese, Spanish, French, German and other dialects. Among the other songs will be a compilation from the Mother Goose, Father Gander rhymes.

While the songs are fun for the children, they also instill strong messages about acceptance and equality of all people. When teaching the songs with the modernized versions of the fairy tales, the teachers ask the children what differences they notice between the original and adapted rhymes.

“Fairness and equality is something children can understand at a young age,” Warford said. “There are messages about being peaceful and kind, and the songs help the children to see the differences people experience. We are teaching them to celebrate diversity.”

It goes beyond learning and understanding the song lyrics. Children in the center also are taught sign language for certain songs. Studies have shown that children are often able to communicate through sign language before they learn to speak.

“The children learn that people communicate in all different ways,” Warford said. “Signing is something we do all the time, and for the children it is becoming a natural part of life.”

The community sing is open to the public and is expected to last little more than 30 minutes.

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