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UNO professor uses children's book to help teach music


Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014 14:01

At the Learning Center of South Omaha, 17 people sit cross-legged in a circle, passing a variety of household items while a brown moose eats them. The objects, including a sock, soap, blackberries and a ghost, are being passed around to the rhythm of a children’s song based on the story “If You Give a Moose a Muffin.”  The participants are adults, not children, and the moose is a puppet animated by Dr. Melissa Berke.

Berke, the coordinator of music education at University of Nebraska at Omaha, recently led a workshop for Spanish-speaking parents. The interactive workshop teaches music and literacy and focuses on the effect of music development on a child, specifically reading development.  
A variety of children’s books from “Green Eggs and Ham” to “Mortimer,” a basket filled with props and a variety of puppets are in Berke’s arsenal as she fulfills the Learning Center of South Omaha’s mission:  empower parents with skills and knowledge to better support children’s educational journey.

Although Berke’s interest in her field of study began when she taught elementary music, it wasn’t until she continued her own education in graduate school that she fully immersed herself into early childhood music, she said.

She served as an administrative faculty fellow for the 2012-2013 academic year and has been a clinician at numerous national and regional conferences.  However, despite her vast education and numerous accolades, she seems down to earth and full of positive energy at the Learning Center.

An interpreter helped Berke communicate with the parents as she showed them a children’s book that used chickens going up and down the page as a way to teach melody.  Rhythm, timbre, texture and form were also discussed during the adult portion of the workshop.

“The workshop was difficult because of the language barrier,”  Berke said. “However, usually the largest barriers are the preconceptions that parents have about their or their child’s music ability.”

After a short break, the children enter the room and sit where their parents formally were. The first attempt to get the kids to sing turned out lackluster results from the young ones.  Berke told her audience that she had “brought her extra singing voices in her pocket.” She threw the invisible voices into the air and asked the children to swallow them. They followed in on the fun and the next round of singing was louder.

“The children naturally sing, move and play so they are the easiest part of these workshops,” Berke said.

After using a ladle as an instrument, drawing food on a sketch person named Achin Drum’s face, practicing vocal range with a slinky and putting food in a toy lady who swallowed a whole pie, more than an hour had passed.  At the end of the workshop, the kids had learned in a way that seemed like playing, and the parents had made discoveries about their children’s learning abilities. Berke expressed her feelings about the impact of her work.

 “We all have a responsibility to see that the next generation is provided with a strong foundation so that they can navigate the world and make it a better place for all of us.”

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