By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Hello, hello, hello everyone. Hello, hello let’s have some fun.
When children at the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center hear the “Hello Song,” they know it’s music time.
On Thursday mornings during the spring semester, UNK assistant professor of music education Beth Mattingly and students in her music in early childhood education class stop by the center to lead a variety of activities for infants, toddlers and prekindergartners.
The sessions, filled with singing, performing and plenty of movement, serve a purpose beyond entertainment. They’re also educational.
“Music teachers have known for years how important it is to have music during the early years of education,” Mattingly said. “Recently, with MRI and neurological studies, scientists are proving that music is essential for brain development, so it’s a crucial part of education for early childhood students.”
As a doctoral student, Mattingly was awarded a Fulbright grant that allowed her to spend nine months in Hungary, where she conducted research at the Kodaly Institute of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music. Her dissertation focused on the work of Katalin Forrai, a prominent music educator who was instrumental in developing early childhood music education in Hungary and around the world.
“Hungary has one of the most famous music education programs in the world, so that experience really enlightened me,” Mattingly said.
After joining the UNK faculty in 2017, Mattingly worked with a colleague to launch the on-campus music in early childhood education course, allowing students to work directly with children while preparing for future careers in the field.
That hands-on, experiential learning is “invaluable,” according to Mattingly.
“I think the best way to learn, especially teaching, is by doing it,” she said. “There are so many things that arise in a classroom setting that you can’t read about in a book. You just need to get in there and try it.”
Before their weekly lessons at the Plambeck Center, Mattingly’s students work together to learn new songs, plan activities and develop curriculum for each of the three age groups. After the sessions, they write reviews and discuss what worked and what needs improvement.
Kelly Richards, a UNK freshman from Wahoo, called the collaborative project “a really awesome opportunity.”
“It’s a great experience, especially for me as a freshman,” she said. “Being able to go work with kids right away my first year of college is really valuable because I’m getting that hands-on experience that a lot of people don’t get until their junior or senior year.”
An elementary education major with an early childhood endorsement, Richards is already improving her classroom management skills and learning other tips and tricks she’ll utilize as a teacher.
Students and staff at the Plambeck Center benefit from the partnership, too.
“Kids learn a lot through music and movement. When they’re just sitting, it gets very boring, so being able to get up and move really makes a difference for them,” said Chelsea Bartling, the center’s director.
The program also allows those students to “experience music through the eyes of someone other than their regular teachers,” she noted.
Using the Thursday morning sessions as a foundation, Bartling and Mattingly will work with the UNK students and Plambeck Center teachers to develop year-round music curriculum for the center.
“It’s so much fun to see the kids react and respond to the different activities,” Mattingly said. “I feel like we’re really making a difference.”
PHOTOS AND VIDEO BY ERIKA PRITCHARD, UNK COMMUNICATIONS