Whew—three of us from Ukuleles of Paradise (Jim, Cynthia and myself, with help from Jim’s sister-in-law, Susan) helped local kids play the ukulele for the first time this morning at the Paradise Library and I’m tired this afternoon! We were invited as part of the library’s “Get A Clue” summer reading program for kids; the librarian billed us on the promo flyers as: “Ukulele Bands: Join Tonya and her band for a rip-roaringly fun ukulele lesson.” (Please note I had nothing to do with the flyer and no, I do not have a band.) Anyway, we had the largest crowd they’ve had all summer—more than 30 kids, from two to 12 years; there’s nothing like a big age difference to make the teaching really challenging! A handful of parents showed up, too…thankfully.
The librarian, Miss Peggy, had a box of rhythm instruments on hand for the littler patrons but, of course, everybody wanted an ukulele. We had 17 (pre-tuned) ukuleles on hand and tried to give them out to the kids who truly had the coordination/desire/attention to play; the rest had tambourines, shaker eggs, wooden blocks and other noisemakers (note to self: remove the kazoos from the box before the next such event). We talked about the origins of the ukulele, the parts of the instrument (with warnings—do NOT touch the tuning pegs) and holding and strumming the ukulele. The C was our chord of choice for the morning–thanks to Joyce (of Alohayall.net) I knew that you could play “Are You Sleeping” entirely with the C chord and, by the end of the 45 minutes, I think that was the only chord that many of the kids were playing, regardless of the song!
The morning’s set included Are You Sleeping; Are We There Yet (same melody); Hokey Pokey; Row, Row, Row your Boat; Pick, Pick, Pick Your Uke (same melody); and the McDonalds song. Miss Peggy vetoed “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” because of the topic…hmmm… As our time drew to a close, the three of us serenaded the group with “Aloha Oe” then we retrieved the ukuleles, re-tuned them (I *know* some of those kids touched those pegs) and headed out the door, exhausted.
My advice for any others attempting this type of very open-ended activity would be to separate the rhythm band enthusiasts from those who truly want to play ukulele, then teach/practice/play with the two groups separately before bringing them back together for a joint song or two. Also, 30 minutes is more than enough learning time for two- to six-year-olds in a large group setting, regardless of how many “action” songs you work in. Know that the C chord is very versatile—hang with it as long as you need/want. And, finally, don’t worry about your singing or playing—your enthusiasm and smile are what counts.
I don’t fancy that we created any players today who are going to give Jake or James a run for their money really soon, but I do know the kids had fun with their first ukulele experience and hope that it will entice them to continue to explore music in the years ahead.