Parent contact is hard no matter where you are. You want to foster a good relationship with parents so that they trust you and believe that you know what you're doing. You also want them to trust that you know how to teach their child and have their child's best interest in mind. Building a relationship is hard when you see parents so infrequently. What makes things even more difficult is that almost all of the parents at my school speak Spanish as their primary language. With a language barrier like that, communication is difficult. Often the parents (and total honesty, me too) will avoid communication aside from a smile or "hello." I only know broken Spanish and they know broken English and it's scary for both of us to try and communicate. I knew that I needed some way to get parents in to the music room and make some good press. I wanted a solid positive experience on their minds so that they're more apt to come to concerts, ask questions, and feel safe communicating with me.
So the instrument petting zoo was born! This is actually a take on something the Kansas City Symphony does here in our area. Symphony members will come out to elementary schools and bring 5-6 performers and instruments for the students to try out, hear, and learn about. It's really cool to learn from an actual symphony musician about the instrument, how it works, and what it sounds like. Their passion for their instrument definitely translates into the interaction and students get a lot out of it. Read more about the KC Symphony's petting zoo experience when you CLICK HERE. The only downside is that the symphony experience is expensive and doesn't tell students about the instruments they use in class every day. I wanted to develop something like the petting zoo for our own school. I wanted students to get excited and involved and bring their parents into the room for an awesome, memorable experience.
Prep work -- Figuring out the Logistics
I'd done this zoo before and it was really awesome, but not quite as structured and I wanted it to be. Last time, kids were in and out and having a good time but they didn't have anything to take away and didn't have a clear path once they got to my room. It was just sort of a free for all and required a lot of "in the moment" reaction and teaching from me. There was a lot of "how do you play this" and "BANG BANG BANG" and "what am I supposed to do" that first year. I needed to add more structure and experiences.
Petting Zoo Kit
Visiting the Zoo
Speaking of adding to the zoo ambiance, I piped some zoo sounds through the classroom speakers in the ceiling and definitely got some smiles. The lion roar was a hoot but what was even more fun was when the orca sounds came on. They had no idea what to think of that! Here are some of the links I used for YouTube videos that you could play at the zoo if you wanted to bring out some zoo sounds! I put all of these into a playlist and set it on "Autoplay" so that it would keep repeating the sounds. This not only added to the ambiance but made it less awkward when the room is empty and a new family walks in or if there's only one family they won't hear dead silence and think they need to rush through. These are my favorite videos for background zoo sounds:
Animal Sounds for Children
Elephants at the San Diego Zoo
Zoo Sounds - My favorite
Annoying (after 12 hours of it) Money Sounds
Nature Sounds from Africa
Favorite Moments from the Zoo: 2014
- Big grins at the xylophones, metallophones, glockenspiels and ESPECIALLY the contra bass bars!
- A mother telling me (as best she could) about seed pod rattles and how they were used/worn for dances in her home in Mexico during celebrations.
- Parents looking at the ceiling and trying to figure out where the bird sounds are coming from.
- Hundreds of smiling faces as they hit the gong!
- Students leaving with Zoo Maps flapping in their hands as they talk about their favorite instruments.
- Moms and Dads teaching "Twinkle Twinkle" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and other favorites on the pitched percussion.
- Old students (middle schoolers now) coming back and sheepishly asking if they could do the zoo too!
- A second grader teaching her 4 year old brother how to play the tubano (and him breaking into the biggest grin).
- Parents and students leaving and saying audibly, "That was so much fun!"