College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

Elementary Education program teams up with Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts

August 22, 2019

By Jerome Boettcher

It is not unusual to hear sweet melodies echoing off the pine and oak trees at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

After all, the 117-acre lot welcomes some of the biggest names in music across genres every summer, much to the delight of thousands of concert-goers who flock to one of the park’s three venues in McLean.

But this past spring and earlier this summer, the national park played host to hundreds of George Mason College of Education and Human Development graduate students.

Through a collaboration with the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts and CEHD’s Elementary Education program, pre-service teachers enrolled in the graduate program learned ways to integrate the arts into their classrooms. Teaching artists at Wolf Trap taught the aspiring teachers techniques to insert music, dance, and drama into their curriculum.

“It gives them new ideas on ways content can be taught in a creative way that maybe they haven’t considered before,” Assistant Professor Mandy Bean said. “I think when they see it in action it makes it so much more applicable to what they are actually getting ready to do—which is becoming a teacher.”

This was the second straight year Bean and Professor Audra Parker, who also serves as the academic program coordinator for the Elementary Education program, have worked with Wolf Trap.

The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts serves as the flagship education program of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. Over the last 35 years, the institute has served more than 100,000 children and early childhood educators through programs and workshops.

The Wolf Trap Institute trains professional performing artists in early childhood development and curriculum. These teaching artists, who serve as independent contractors, then work with teachers in their classrooms—sharing arts integration strategies, developing lesson plans, and interacting with children—all across the country and world.

“We focus on the professional development for the teachers,” said Nicole Escudero, an early childhood arts specialist at Wolf Trap. “How to empower teachers in how to use the arts.”

As part of the course, “Curriculum and Methods of Teaching in Elementary Education,” Parker and Bean took the four sections of the class—more than 50 students—to Wolf Trap in April. There, three Wolf Trap teaching artists displayed a variety of ways to mix the performing arts into the classroom. The classes broke out into groups—singing, dancing, and using puppetry to tell stories.

“They go through a series of stations where artists are modeling a sample lesson for them with their art form,” Parker said. “Then they finish with a student trying to apply that art form to some examples of children’s literature. It is really cool. It is such a great opportunity to be at Wolf Trap.”

Added Escudero: “The energy was incredible. They were interacting the whole time. They were bringing stories to life with drama.”

For example, first-year graduate student Raven Sellers from nearby Springfield, said a song about a caterpillar experiencing metamorphosis stuck with her. She said she didn’t realize how effective singing about the bug’s growth into a butterfly could be for her students to learn about the transformation.

“I never thought I would use music so much in my classroom, chanting things and ad-libbing things,” she said. “It was a really memorable way to teach any kind of lesson.”

The partnership with Wolf Trap continued this summer when several teaching artists visited Bean’s class, “Methods of Teaching Social Studies and Integrating Fine Arts in the Elementary Classroom,” on the Fairfax campus.

Both Bean and Parker said the feedback they’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. They’ll often get emails from alums who excitingly relay that they used one of the songs from the workshop and rave about how much their students enjoyed it. This time, the students were able to take their learning a step further in considering the art integrated lesson plans they will use in their fall internships.

“It was an enriching experience,” Sellers said. “I think it will change a lot of ways I teach in my classroom. It was a much more fun, creative, and out-of-the-box way (to teach). It was fun to change the point of view.”