I Am Ready: Early Learning and the Arts

When Quynn Johnson steps into the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms at Margaret Brent Elementary School in Baltimore City, she is met with hugs and big, bright smiles. The students love that they’ve been learning to tap with the artist and they’ve been waiting patiently for her to return. “What do I do?” the artist asks. “You make music with your feet and you keep a steady beat!” the students respond.

Quynn is a multi-award-winning performing artist, choreographer, author, and the co-director of SOLE Defined, a percussive dance company. Though she has performed tap dance for national and international audiences, on this morning, she is captivating our state’s youngest learners—not on a stage, but in a classroom—through rhythm, imagination, and dance. Already a professional teaching artist on the Young Audiences roster, Quynn is now training to also become a Maryland Wolf Trap Artist

A kindergarten student models a "heel-toe" tap movement by striking the heel of his sneaker to the floor. His classmates sit in a circle on the rug and watch carefully.

As the Maryland regional affiliate of Wolf Trap, Young Audiences is proud to be expanding access to the arts for Maryland’s youngest students during the critical early learning years. 

High-quality early childhood education is absolutely essential to giving children the best possible start in school and in life. Decades of practice and research prove that integrating the arts into classroom experiences contributes to greater academic achievement and social/emotional development for our youngest students. The creative collaboration between teachers and artists in the Wolf Trap residency builds foundations and fuels momentum in arts-integrated early learning classrooms.

Students and teachers sit in a circle on the floor, feet outstretched. Children imagine their colorful sneakers are transformed into tap shoes and are in position to stomp out beats.

The children sing along with the artist to the tune of Frère Jacques, “I am ready, You are, too, Eyes on the teacher, We’re going to learn.” Everyone knows the song and everyone is excited to sing it—first in English, then in Spanish.

Estoy listo
Estás tambien
Ojos en la profe
Vamos a aprender

Quynn made up the song while teaching in the Summer Arts & Learning Academy last summer, but now sings it with students in lower elementary grades at every school she visits. Mrs. Jager, the Kindergarten teacher, likes it, too. She uses “I am ready” as a transition song all the time—and her students will remind her if she forgets!

The artist is not only here to teach the young students how to tap, she is here to build the teachers’ skills and knowledge and demonstrate how to integrate the art form into their lessons throughout the year. This embedded professional development is something that distinguishes the Wolf Trap Early Learning Residency from other artist residencies.

As Quynn leads the students in an exercise stomping out beats, another skill is being fortified. They are identifying patterns and practicing word sounds like “Apple, apple, ah, ah, ah,” and “Bat, bat, buh, buh, buh.” The classroom teachers and the artist work together to tailor the residency to each particular classroomdeciding how refined the dance movements should be for each age group and which literacy skills to focus on.

“The process is pretty new and different to me but I like it,” said Quynn. The artist pays particular attention to teach the elements of her art form that educators will feel comfortable utilizing in the futureand not just off the cuff, but with some artistic integrity. “I think the embedded PD portion is a great way to keep the teachers involved and shows them how it doesn’t have to be its own lesson but can be incorporated within what they’re already doing. I never want them to feel like it’s unreachable.”

By the end of Quynn’s residency in the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, the students know how to keep a steady beat on their feet, and they remember a beat pattern and two basic tap steps. And the teachers can connect the art form to literacy—leading students to sound out words and sounds with their feet. “They both felt great and comfortable with everything we did in class and I could hear them using it after our time was over.” They were ready.

Eighty-five percent of brain development occurs during the first five years of a child’s life. Participation in the arts encourages positive growth in a child’s emotional, physical, intellectual, creative, and social development. As the Maryland affiliate of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, Young Audiences expands access to the arts for Maryland’s youngest students during the critical early learning years. Bring a Maryland Wolf Trap 16-Session Residency into your school.