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How Can We Use Music and Storytelling for Connected Learning?

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Meet Wincey Terry-Bryant, an incredible, knock your socks off edutainer who knows how to connect history, STEM, cultural, and the performing arts in a way that engages early childhood and elementary audiences. She's the CEO of WinceyCo, and an international artist who has performed with Sting and Tina Turner and guested on Sesame Street In 1988, Wincey combined her love for music, education and children to found a performing arts troupe that educates audiences about serious social issues and academic subject matter. These dynamic live educational shows are presented by professional Winceyco actors, singers, dancers and musicians. Wincey has produced two educational music cds, one cartoon dvd and a children’s book on bullying.

I first met Wincey at the Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children) (VAAEYC) conference in Richmond last March. We were both presenting and I was blown away by the way she captivated a room, offering insight to early childhood educators about strategies for connecting math and musical concepts in a way that is fun for the teacher and the students. And the more I learned about her and the assembly programs she offers, the more I wanted to share this incredible woman's story with you. I definitely encourage you to listen to and/or watch the entire podcast -- so many rich ideas there. The links are at the end of the post.

Faction -- where facts meet action

And so it's kind of like what they call faction. So the facts are there, but then we add a little creative license so the kids can kind of see what might have happened.

Wincey has developed a series of assembly programs that focus on cultural and social issues, making them engaging and relevant for young audiences. Her LATIN HERITAGE ASSEMBLY shares the contributions of Latino people to music, science and the world in which we live today! AFRICAN DISCOVERY THROUGH MUSIC (the OG assembly program) depicts how Africans and African Americans demonstrated courage and perseverance to overcome obstacles and change American society. The WOMEN’S HISTORY ASSEMBLY focuses on the life and legacy of some of our nation’s most powerful, yet under-celebrated women.

One of the things that I wanted to focus on when I realized that this could really be a thing was people who are under celebrated.

Wincey's programs focus on people the young audience may not have heard of, like Gertrude Grant, the woman who designed the lights for the Holland Tunnel. Often, through stories, music, and art, she and her performing troupe help early childhood and elementary audiences really connect to culture, history, and yes, math. I've used the concept of faction (fact and action) when working with students and teachers in workshops and professional developments. We take the stories and add in an engineering or STEAM challenge to build meaningful connections. Check out my blog about Emily Roebling and the Brooklyn Bridge for faction in action.

Wincey's African Discovery Through Music program includes stories that young children may not be aware of. "So one of the things that I talk about is how African people were actually kings and queens way back in Africa," Wincey says. "The oldest bones ever found were found in Africa. So that's the birthplace of the original man. And a lot of the things that we use today were created by African and African American people. We were master scientists, but because the law said that we were three fifths of a person, we couldn't get a patent. So a lot of times, the slave master would take his slave to the patent office and have them explain the invention because the slave master couldn't explain it because he didn't invent it. But there was someone in the patent office who was kind of hiding, and they worked in the patent office. They were taking their own notes about who was actually bringing this stuff to the forefront, who was inventing this stuff, who was explaining it. And so things like the guitar, the gas mask, the golf tee, the sugar crystal, horseshoe, riding saddle, all those things made by a black man."

Wincey takes these inventions, and true to form, puts them to music in the form of a jingle. At [16:56], you can hear her sing the song, "Made By a Black Man." She notes, "So the kids can sing along, and their part is 'made by a black man.' So I'll say, here's another invention nobody ever mentioned. And then I'll say, sharpen your pencil. The pencil sharpener. The pencil sharpener made by a black man. And then we'll do guitar, and we keep just going through the jingle so they get to get it in their head and sing some of those things." By putting the accomplishments to music, she makes them memorable. In fact, she is still approached at the grocery store by grownups who remember singing the song with Wincey when they were small children.

Emotional Quotient -- Building Connections Through STEAM

In the podcast, Wincey also shares strategies for building EQ, or Emotional Quotient, in young audiences. She notes that creating situations where children are able to talk with each other and solve problems together is crucial for building EQ.

All these studies say that EQ is actually as, if not more important than IQ. And that's your emotional quotient -- how well you get along with people and how well you can work out conflicts, because anytime you work with people, they're going to be conflicts, and you have to learn to work them out.

Wincey notes that the arts can help create playful scenarios where the stakes are not life and death, giving young children a safe space to practice EQ skills. By adding a STEAM component or challenge to the programs, children have the opportunity to safely practice collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creative problem solving. In these settings, children get to interact and know other people and how they might think.

Connecting Culture and Social-Emotional Learning Through Music and the Arts

Wincey also offers a series of programs for early childhood and elementary students focused on character education and social-emotional learning. In collaboration with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, she recently presented a new program, Character Rocks. This assembly program focuses on a little girl named Carly who is jealous because it is someone else's birthday. She's mad and pouting and then the rocks in the garden come to life and Carly and the audience explore things like Citizenship, Justice, Respect, and Kindness. "And so there are nine components of Character, so we talk about those nine, but in a song," Wincey says. "So we sing Citizenship about taking turns. Celebrate me, I'll celebrate you. That's what friends and neighbors do. You're happy for me. And tomorrow it flips because that's what we call citizenship, and the kids say citizenship. So we set that whole thing up for them to sing along."

The assembly programs feature lesson plans and extensions for the teachers to continue the conversation. For example, Character Rocks has a coloring book with the CD in the back.

"So there's a lesson plan, teacher resource guide for every single show that we do, because we want schools and teachers to understand that we know that it's not a one and done, and we don't want them to think of it as a show because it's more than a show," Wincey says. "There are lesson plans that you can use to intro the show, kind of like as a precursor or as a follow up with activities that you can have the children do in the classroom and almost like scripted lesson plans that teachers can choose to if they feel like, uncomfortable sharing a certain topic." Click here to book a Winceyco show.

Making Math Matter -- Connecting Music and STEM in Early Childhood Classrooms

Wincey is also a Master Teaching Artist for Wolf Trap. I was fortunate enough to be in one of her workshops, where she helped early childhood educators discover the joys of connecting mathematical thinking and music.

You can teach little people anything because for them, anything is possible. So they don't have the walls that we have. They can learn anything. I was thinking we need to get these programs spiraled down so little people can access them.

Wolf Trap is a national park in Vienna, Virginia. And they have a great performing arts program where they bring in big name acts from all over the world. Wolf Trap is also a big leader in early childhood arts education. Within their programming, they send artists into schools. Wincey became a Wolf Trap master teacher working through NJPAC and travels the country sharing strategies with early childhood educators.

"I think one of the things that some of the governmental programs and educators like the Department of Education are really starting to understand is how important math skills are for everybody, but especially for young people. So they started this initiative and this program, and there are some funders, like big corporations who say, put the math residency at this school so that little people can learn about math before they get a chance to get intimidated about it."

Wincey takes math and makes it into a song or a game. For example, when teaching shapes, she helps teachers remember that they are teaching geometry. "If I were to hold up a square, you know it was a square, but you might not realize that that's geometry," she says. "So working in that pedagogy of confidence, getting them to feel like, oh, this is math. Well, this is just shapes. This is so much fun, or this is math, this is just operations. This is just adding three people to the line that one person was already on and then counting the total. So making it fun. So teachers can kind of feel empowered about really kind of what they're already doing, but now we're naming it."

As I observed Wincey teach, the key, for me, was seeing these teachers get fired up about math and about singing and storytelling. What Wincey does really well is linking together things so that people were building connections that you're using the arts to do math, but you're also connecting it to science. You're doing dinosaurs. Let's count how many dinosaurs there are in the room. Let's measure according to how big a preschooler is and lay them head to toe and count out the preschoolers. Let's talk geometry. Let's actually measure the diameter of a tyrannosaurus rex mouth and see how many of us we can get inside of it.

Through musical connections and games, early childhood educators can have fun helping small people build one-to-one correspondence, building mathematical language and common sense reasoning, exploring patterns, graphing, and deductive reasoning. And what's really fascinating is that these skills apply across the curriculum and can easily be embedded into centers, circle time, outdoor play, and story time. It's a matter of being intentional and empowering teachers to be able to label what they are already doing in the classroom.

Now Check Out the Full Podcast Episode

Thank you for checking out the highlights of the Adventures in Learning podcast interview with Wincey Terry-Bryant. Please subscribe to stay on top of our offerings, listen to or watch the podcast, and leave your comments below.

Show Notes Guide to Listening and Watching:

  • [01:30] The journey from singing in the church choir to becoming the CEO of Wincey Co, a company focused on music and early childhood education.

  • [05:11] Highlights of an incredible 30-year career, including the joy of impacting young minds and supporting teachers through professional development.

  • [07:47] Challenges teachers face today.

  • [08:29] Creating programs that focus on under-celebrated figures in history.

  • [11:31] How "faction," a mix of fact and action, helps to make history engaging.

  • [12:16] The importance of hands-on learning and EQ (emotional quotient) development in fostering problem-solving and collaboration among students.

  • [14:35] Virtual STEAM course Ad

  • [15:48] The OG Black History assembly, including African kings and queens, the contributions of African and African American inventors, and how they were not always credited due to discrimination.

  • [17:17] A jingle Wincey uses to teach children about inventions made by Black inventors.

  • [18:16] The joys of being a teaching artist for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and how she developed her show "Character Rocks."

  • [26:55] Teacher resource guides and lesson plans created to accompany WinceyCo's assembly programs.

  • [29:17] The challenge of being holiday-centric when it comes to celebrating Black History Month and Latin Heritage Month, stressing the importance of integrating these celebrations throughout the school year.

  • [30:30] Professional Development Ad

  • [32:01] Creating educational content that connects and appeals with young audiences.

  • [36:30] Working with Wolf Trap as a teaching artist providing performing arts and STEM connections for early childhood educators. She discusses the importance of teaching math skills to young children and making learning fun for them.

  • [40:18] The importance of empowering teachers to be creative in their teaching methods and providing valuable experiences for their students.

  • [44:00] Covid programming -- how "Wincy Co Workshop" provided strategies for parents to teach their children at home.

  • [50:15] The joys of creating and working with actors, especially helping new actors fulfill their dreams.

  • [51:02] Hope in a next generation of children and educators.

View the podcast episode on YouTube.

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