The following first appeared in the August 2011 issue of Natural Awakenings of Southwest Virginia. It was also published in the fall 2011 issue of It’s All About Her magazine.
Kari Kovick, music teacher and founder of The Early Childhood Music Program of Floyd, has a sign hanging in her home that she purchased at a yard sale, which reads: “It’s better to build children than repair adults.” A mother of two who has a natural rapport with children, Kovick has been using music as a vehicle for reaching the inner child in others and as a healing agent in the community for more than a decade.
Kovick is classically trained in voice and is a member of Windfall, a local American roots band that also includes her husband, Michael. In college, she studied psychology, with the intention of doing research on the body’s ability to create endorphins and higher states of consciousness. But she soon discovered she was more of a “people person” than a scientist. After working as a clinician teaching stress reduction and mindfulness in hospitals and stress clinics, she shifted her focus to working with children.
“Children draw out my heart,” Kovick says. She explains that she was a serious child who didn’t play often enough, and who experienced separation anxiety as a young girl. After she made the decision to combine her love of music with her love of children, she sought further education. She trained in the Orff method, a- program developed by German composer and music educator Carl Orff. It provides a child-centered approach to teaching music, movement and drama that resembles play and involves children as active participants. Kovick is also a teacher of Music Together, an early-childhood music curriculum that emphasizes adult involvement. She also has experience in the healing arts. She is a licensed massage therapist, is trained in the Chinese bodywork method of Tuina and has studied craniosacral therapy.
The foundation of Kovick’s work today is with young children, babies and their parents in her Friday Morning Jamboree classes at the Floyd Country Store, where her infectious style, angelic singing and foot-stomping guitar-playing captures the attention of even the littlest participants. Using rhythm, interactive games and sing-along songs, Kovick creates a fun atmosphere with a focus on supporting children to be uniquely themselves while also being part of a social structure. “The classes give parents the materials to use music to bond with their children,” Kovick says, explaining that each family takes home a CD of the class songs so they can sing them together at home.
Funded by grants, donations and private fees (some on a sliding scale), Kovick’s Early Childhood Music Program has led to work in the public school system in Floyd and in Roanoke, where she integrates social and emotional learning (SEL) skills into classrooms. Using songs, storybooks, focused attention and inquiry, Kovick’s programs foster tolerance, assertiveness and inner-resiliency in children. “Our culture is awakening to the understanding that emotional intelligence is a very important part of the whole person, and that our logical, cognitive brains can’t function well without the integration of the feeling level,” she says.
Kovick’s work at Floyd’s independent Blue Mountain School, a contemplative progressive school where she has been teaching music to pre-school through middle-school-aged children on and off for 11 years, also incorporates SEL. With songs entitled “Everybody Started Out Small,” “When I Feel Mad,” “I’m Not Scared,” “What Can One Little Person Do To Make This World Go Round?” and more, she helps give children a language for their emotions and sparks the inherent goodness in each child. Last year she hosted a Blue Mountain School student concert at The Floyd Country Store, entitled “Ripples of Blue: Celebrating the Peaceful Heart.” The event spotlighted what students had learned throughout the year and engaged the audience of more than 80 people.
Many of the songs Kovick uses in her curricula come from The Children’s Music Network, a resource that celebrates the positive power of music in children’s lives, which Kovick describes as “songs written by people who love children.” Her own song “I Wish My Daddy Was Here” was written impromptu to soothe a distressed child at a camp where Kovick was teaching music.
Another Kovick original, “On and On,” was written during the recording of Peace by Peace, a collection of songs performed by Kovick and her students as a fundraiser for two local families with children fighting cancer. When one of the children died during project, Kovick channeled her own grief through music. The song begins: “Life comes up and life lays low and in between is when we grow.”
Occasionally, Kovick collaborates with other musicians and therapists to deliver her programs. Her sponsors, partnerships and service projects have included the June Bug Center, Head Start of Floyd and Roanoke, the Virginia Preschool Initiative and Inward Bound Mindfulness Education.
Some of Kovick’s first students are nearly grown now. Some of the babies she has worked with are pre-teens. She is regularly recognized by children in the community, who light up when they see her.
First-time students are also responsive. At the recent Fourth of July Celebration in Floyd, Kovick performed a series of playful songs with a new group of children who were quick to catch on and join in the fun. “Children recognize good attention and intention when they see it,” Kovick says. “They welcome it with open arms and open hearts.” ~ Colleen Redman
Note: Watch Kari’s video on her work, which is now called Heart of the Child Social Emotional Music Education HERE.