Marie’s Place Preschool and Childcare in Truckee brings enriching music education to the region’s youngest learners
July 23, 2017
Look back on an earliest childhood music memory, chances are there's a tune or a lyric that brings joy, that allows a moment to reminisce about a simpler time.
Two local women have come together to create musical memories for North Lake Tahoe youngsters throught their Musikgarten sessions — a form of early childhood music education.
"Everything I do is purposeful and there is no time wasted," said Rita Haun, a local professional cellist and music educator of 38 years.
Haun leads a music class every Thursday morning for children ages two to five at Marie's Place Preschool and Childcare in Truckee.
"I could cry," said Haun of explaining the joy that working with kids and parents in making music brings her.
"Every week it's extraordinary — the richness and the appreciation and the beauty is such a blessing. This is my 38th year and I can't stop doing it. It's rewarding to know that you're actually affecting the future, nourishing the child to be the best they can be, offering opportunities for creativity and expression.
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Marie Snyder owns and operates Marie's Place Preschool and Childcare in Truckee, and has worked with Rita on children's music classes for around 12 years. The two met when Haun's daughter went to Marie's Place as a toddler (she's now 23 years old).
"We are definitely a play-based, hands-on curriculum that is very experiential in our learning style," Snyder said.
"We do day outings to get the kids out into the world, and we bring enrichment into our place of learning by hosting events like this with Rita. I bring yoga classes to the kids, we work on drumming, and so much more."
The nature-based learning is conducted out of Snyder's home in Truckee, where she has curated the perfect atmosphere for little ones to thrive and be entertained all day long.
"We're very nature-based and take the kids to Sagehen, Taylor Creek, Donner State Park; we think it's important to expose them to what's here in Truckee, it's more fulfilling for the kids when they get to be outside and can touch and feel what we're learning about."
When it comes to in-house education, the music program is one of the favorite learning activities for children.
Haun works with Snyder and a few other parents to engage the children in meaningful conversation, singing, dance, and general movement while infusing speech, behavioral and cognitive skills into the lesson.
"The first few years of life are the most important, the younger you are the more impact this type of training has on the synapses in the brain," Haun explained.
"We are working on speech, rhythm patterns as the kids echo what the teacher is saying, listening, ear training, good manners, kindness — there is just so much that the kids are learning at once."
The curriculum is very thoughtful in the class itinerary. The kids are acknowledged as individuals as the entire group sings "hello" and "goodbye" using everyone's first names.
As the teachers move through different activities, the children patiently listened to directions. When they got a bit anxious, as is to be expected with 2 to 5 year olds, they calmly and politely said things like, "I'd like to have a turn" and "Can I try singing next?"
The teachers are very tuned in to their behavior and adjust the lesson plan to best accommodate what each child needs in the moment.
"All of these things we do are nurturing the limbic system, the frontal lobe, the entire brain. Not to mention nurturing the relationship with their partner in class, the people in the group, the children are all aware of each other and aware of the adults and are treating each other with kindness," Haun said.
The session creates the framework for creativity and all of the children are clearly engaged, encouraging one another and excited to learn every step of the way.
One of the most important parts of class is how teachers and students interact with one another and even the objects in the room. Haun is planting seeds of mindfulness in the youngsters as she instructs them to gently place their sticks into the baskets, or nicely fold the scarves and set them in a clean pile on the floor.
"They don't just throw things back in the basket," she said.
"Even through the sticks cost $1.50, it's laying the groundwork for a $7,000 French horn, for example. I don't need the scarves folded up, but that is training a fine motor skill and they are learning the same instructions of how to fold it nicely so there's repetition, security."
Apart from her work with Musikgarten at Marie's Place, Haun also holds classes building musical skills at the Family Resource Center throughout the school year.
Local parents can join in infant-parent classes, as well as family classes with multiple children from birth to age 5 in one class, who are paired with their parents for fun activities.
Haun explained that she and Snyder's main goal with their curriculum is to offer the children positive interaction in their creative learning space.
"So many kids are using screens on the iPhone or TV, I just don't see children being read to, I see them holding mom's phone, being occupied by a game," Haun said.
"There's no technology here except for a CD player, everything we're doing is beautiful, our environment is beautiful."
Snyder said that since she doesn't have children of her own, she likes to be available to the families who need her.
"I don't have kids of my own, so I like to share the joy of what the kids are doing here with their parents. When I was growing up my mom used to take pictures and do baby books, so I like to offer parents a yearbook of their kids or a music video to share with them and show what their day has been like," she said.
Snyder said that because of her preschool and childcare's hours, she mostly sees other local teachers' children but that she is currently accepting new students.
"If you come here you just have to be ready to get out into the world," she said.
"It's Marie's Place, let the adventures begin."
Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.