Westminster Conservatory Daycare program enters sixth year

PNC Foundation-funded program offers music instruction at two Central New Jersey daycare centers
Anne Sears
The program includes an early childhood music specialist who supervises instructors from Westminster Conservatory.

The program includes an early childhood music specialist who supervises instructors from Westminster Conservatory.

Thanks to a grant from the PNC Foundation, Westminster Conservatory’s  Daycare Music Instruction Program is entering its sixth year of providing music instruction at two Central New Jersey daycare centers that care for underserved children, ages 2½ to just under age 5. 

The program is offered at Paul Robeson Place YWCA Princeton Child Care Center and Nursery School in Princeton and at the Millhill Child & Family Development Center in Trenton. It includes an early childhood music specialist who supervises early childhood instructors from Westminster Conservatory, the community music school of Rider University’s Westminster College of the Arts. The instructors partner with daycare classroom teachers to use engagement in music to help children prepare for school by expanding and enhancing their early childhood pre-education experience. It introduces children as young as 2½ to the fundamental elements of music, such as rhyming and rhythms, forming the base for more advanced musical learning. The results have been extraordinarily positive.

According to Joe Whall, client and community relations director, PNC New Jersey Market, “The Westminster initiative is an outstanding example of what an effective and dedicated staff can do with funding provided under the PNC Grow Up Great program.  Along with a delightful introduction to the world of music, the children are experiencing vocabulary enrichment and acquiring pre-reading skills, learning to cooperate and interact, and so much more.”

This past year at the Millhill Child and Family Center the program included several thematic elements. Since the Center was offering students a special program focusing on planting and gardening, the songs, dances, poems, and stories used in each class emphasized a gardening theme.  Also, since another theme focused on music and literature, teachers used books to include more music in their teaching and enhancing the students’ literacy development by encouraging them to “read what they sing and sing what they read.”  

Over an extended spring break, each classroom received several musical books/stories to read together and discuss.  The books were rotated through each classroom so that every class had a new collection of musical stories every two days. At the end of the book rotation, students in each class discussed their favorite musical stories and shared what they liked about each one. At the conclusion of this unit, students were each asked to write and illustrate one page in a song book entitled “Music Makes Me…”  They identified how music makes them feel and drew a corresponding picture.  The pages were put together into a class songbook, which each class read and sang together. 

“The PNC Foundation Daycare Music Instruction Program continues to impact the greater community by enhancing and enriching the education of some of the youngest and most underserved members of the community,” says Program Director Jennifer Garr.  “It provides them with a level of musical expertise and exposure typically only available via private instruction. It also offers professional development opportunities to classroom instructors beyond their usual curriculum, making them stronger and more creative teachers. An added benefit is that it supports and exposes pre-school children to local talent, making it clear that music ability and talent is not only available on television or the radio. We’re delighted to continue this educational outreach program.”