Thomas Burley (right) and his brother, Liam (left), play a song on the xylophone as a part of the musical petting zoo at Golden Community Resource Society. (Claire Palmer - Star Photo)

Golden’s first ‘musical petting zoo’ helps kids forge connections and with literacy skills

The program aims to give children the opportunity to be introduced to music and rhythm

If you passed by the Golden Community Resource Society (GCRS) on Thursday, Jan. 30, you would have been greeted by the sound of dozens of kids playing with a variety of instruments, from ukuleles to home made shakers and bells.

As a part of Family Literacy Week in B.C., Kate Smyles, the family navigator for the GCRS, created what she labeled the ‘musical petting zoo.’ The zoo comprised of several of Smyles’ own personal instruments, as well as donated ones, ranging from strings to woodwinds, as well as the home made ones, in an effort to give children the opportunity to be introduced to rhythm and music at an early age.

“It helps teach good skills, like turn taking and building relationships through listening and feeding off of each other,” said Smyles. “Being able to have more connections like this is how we can bring people together.”

The program was created in cooperation with the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL), where Smyles also works.

Smyles was inspired by her own experience growing up with music. With an english literature degree and a history in childcare, as well as being musically inclined herself, the musical petting zoo helps blend together all of her passions.

“It’s so ripe with opportunities with how to create,” said Smyles, “I grew up with my mom playing music so I know the value of having that kind of language and experience, so this comes from what I’ve grown up with throughout my life.”

The program seeks to help increase literacy through the power of music. It has been proven that engaging with music and rhythm can help improve written literacy skills and forges connections in the mind that can help with other skills down the road.

“Musical literacy helps with physical and written literacy and all sorts of things going on in the young mind,” said Smyles. “I think it’s really important to have that exposure from early on and I feel like there’s not enough going on with music in Golden, so we want to build something.”

Smyles runs something similar in the summer at the farmer’s markets, and has carved out a space where children and adults alike can come and make music together.

“It’s had a really good turnout and response from not just kids but adults as well who’ve felt really drawn to the instruments,” said Smyles. “Adults need time to play too and it helped create an opportunity for them.”

For now, the musical petting zoo is just a one-time event, but Smyles is looking to get it off the ground in the future and formally create a program that would help kids create instruments and tap into their musical side more than once a year for literacy week.

While the program is still in the primary stages of development, Smyles is currently looking into funding options through donations and would like to build a library of instruments that can be checked out at any time by anyone. This would be similar to the lending library that already exists and would serve not just kids, but the teens and adults of Golden as well.


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